Beef consumption in the EU is expected to level off from 2007 onwards, but production will continue to fall, according to the latest estimates from the European Commission.

Europe's appetite for all cuts of beef, both fresh and processed in retail and foodservice, is expected to remain at about 8.15 million tonnes a year. But production will continue to decline as the effects of CAP reform feed through to farmers' decisions about their future. By 2013, there will be a shortfall of 680,000 tonnes, much of which will have to be covered by imported supplies of meat, the Commission says.

Duncan Sinclair at the MLC blamed the decline in dairy cow numbers, as well as lower suckler cow production. He said: "This is the size of the deficit despite the OTM rule change in the UK, which shows what an opportunity there is for British farmers. We are exporting more and more beef each week."