DEFRA has pointed to a slight improvement in cattle availability with November's UK kill 186,000 steers, heifers and young bulls, 2% up on the previous year.
Recent indicators suggest a sharper increase in December slaughterings as well.
Prices paid by the slaughterers to farmers have been marginally better than a year ago, with wholesalers talking of demand from the multiples as "satisfactory".
However, MLC economists share the opinion of slaughterers who claim the farm to retail price spread for beef has become narrow.
The abattoirs claim supermarkets have been bargaining harder and they have also been hit by cattle availability problems and soft demand at the top end of the catering trade.
UK beef production is set to slump from 680,000t this year to perhaps only 610,000t in 2003, with imports rising at least 25% to about 340,000t, but this is still not likely to stop some fall in consumption.

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