Stocks of imported frozen beef - already being sold in the UK or likely to become available during the next few months - could be much bigger than most official statistics suggest.
Talk of these extra supplies has been increasing tension in a market already nervous ahead of the end of the Over Thirty Months Scheme. And now the MLC has acknowledged that rumours of hidden tonnage may be based on fact.
MLC analysts say they have noticed a discrepancy in import data. Brazilian official statistics show beef exports to the UK to be 26,000 tonnes in January-May this year, while imports recorded officially at this end were only 16,000 tonnes.
The anomaly could be due to frozen product held in bonded storage here before clearing customs, which means it will not yet have been officially recorded. Otherwise it may be stored in Rotterdam, having been landed there rather than heading straight for the UK.
This greater tonnage from Brazil would dismay home producers of cattle.
Unrest seen in recent months in Ireland, where farmers have caused disruption in the Republic’s meat processing sector with a campaign against low prices and imports of Brazilian beef, is beginning to spread to the UK, with protests by farmers in Northern Ireland and, just this week, in Scotland (see story far left).
Unexpected releases of bonded stock and surprising arrivals of product from Rotterdam often disrupted the trade in sheepmeat from New Zealand in the 1980s.
Mike Ingham