National herd shrinking faster than most observers realised even before FMD Sharply increased imports of beef will be necessary to meet demand in the UK during the next couple of years, as home production is sure to remain severely depressed long after the FMD crisis. This assessment by MLC economist Duncan Sinclair draws attention to often overlooked contractionary influences on the British cattle sector unrelated to FMD. Speaking at the MLC's Outlook conference in Monday in London, Sinclair emphasised new evidence showing the national herd had been shrinking faster than most industry observers realised even before FMD appeared. This downtrend in cattle numbers, together with likely supply constraining factors not clearly visible in most of the FMD related stock disposal data, would cause a dramatic change in the self sufficiency ratio. "The December farm census results have shown there was already a bigger drop in breeding cattle numbers than expected," said Sinclair. This implied part of the predicted 13% fall in prime cattle slaughterings this year would have occurred without FMD. But a further drop was inevitable next year because official measures aimed at eradicating FMD "meant a lot of the store cattle would be in the wrong places". Consumer demand, though soft, was strong enough to keep beef consumption up to perhaps 918,000 tonnes this year (against 958,000t in 2000) with a partial recovery to 930,000t expected next year, said Sinclair. However home production was tumbling, the likely total this year only 618,000t against 708,000t in 2000. Sinclair predicted a further fall to 590,000t in 2002. Without intervention stocks available in the UK, the gap could be closed only by a surge of imports. Sinclair forecast external suppliers would see their sales volume in the UK jump from last year's 205,000t to 286,000t in the current year, and might reach 340,000t in 2002. {{M/E MEAT }}