Further moves to ease the official restrictions on movement of livestock and meat seem likely in the coming week, as further fears of more foot and mouth outbreaks proved unfounded. However, among meat processors and regional farmers, notably in the West Country, Wales and northern England, talk was of serious disruption continuing in the food chain. A relaxation of the export ban is due to be discussed at an EU meeting in Brussels on 23 August. Industry leaders had initially expected this ban to remain in force for at least three months, with the anticipated effects being heavy downward pressure on prices, especially for sheepmeat. But by the middle of this week some were cautiously optimistic. "Exports to the EU could resume in early September," said MLC chief executive Richard Lowe on Wednesday. If this forecast is correct, the widely expected collapse of lamb and mutton prices will not happen, and beef prices will probably prove firmer than many traders have been expecting. Lowe noted a sudden change of attitude in meat wholesaling, and The Grocer has heard traders expressing disappointment at probably not being able to pick up lamb cheaply. Yet Lowe, like other senior figures, emphasised that the resumption of exports depended on there being no further confirmed cases. Even if the EU vets at this meeting do agree on a relaxation of the export ban there will still be some restrictions with important effects on meat trade and prices within the UK. Although meat will be exportable, livestock shipments out of Britain will remain prohibited. This should not prevent a price-strengthening influence in beef but could slightly restrict the upward movement of sheepmeat values because live lamb exports are a key part of that trade. Pigmeat and pig offal, too, could remain in difficulty as customers outside the EU are major buyers and third country sales will remain prohibited for at least three months.