Meat market analysts these days warn against relying on coldstore stock statistics as forward indicators of supply and price, partly because the role of buffer stocks in the distribution system has been downgraded by processors' and retailers' attempts to adopt the just in time' principle right along the production and marketing chain. But in the latest instance, the figures for January would have been useful if available earlier, as they show inventories were reduced just in time for the foot and mouth disease crisis, causing shortages and sharp price increases in the wholesale sector. The new numbers are in line with trade gossip a couple of months ago. Pork was of course scarce, reflecting the firm world market, but the significant feature was the erosion of stocks year on year and during January across nearly all the product range, even including poultry. Beef, however, poses questions. It is now apparent imports during December were not responsible for a surprising stability of stored tonnage between late November and the year-end. Possible explanations are a weak Christmas trade, or the lingering legacy of intervention stocks. {{M/E MEAT }}