Travel ban may cause British meat shortage by end of week

UK - The ban on animal movement imposed by the government to contain foot and mouth disease could create shortages of British meat by the end of the week, the government's head of sustainable food and farming, Sir Don Curry, told the Guardian yesterday.
calendar icon 7 August 2007
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Meat processors met officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) yesterday afternoon to discuss easing some of the foot and mouth restrictions under licence from Thursday so that livestock could be moved to slaughter to avoid shortages. Any movement of livestock from farms to abattoirs would depend on no further outbreaks of the disease being reported in other parts of the country.

The ban on livestock movement will have an immediate impact on food supplies, Sir Don said. "Within a week we will see short supplies, especially of pork and lamb. Beef has a longer maturation process, so there are perhaps two weeks' stocks, but by the end of this week, if restrictions are not lifted, we will be running out of home-produced lamb and pork."

The organisation that represents the larger abattoirs and meat packers, the British Meat Processors' Association (BMPA), agreed. "If we can't slaughter within the week, it will be increasingly difficult to source British meat. Pork will be hit first, then lamb, and then beef," director Stuart Roberts said. British beef mince is likely to be affected quickly too, since it has a short life between slaughter and supermarket shelf, unlike other cuts of beef.

The BMPA met Defra officials yesterday to discuss how limited movement of animals could begin again, if no further outbreaks of foot and mouth were reported. "We don't want a licensing system that is so complicated that it causes more problems than it solves," Mr Roberts added.

The industry has been told privately that there will be no movement before Thursday, by which time nearly a week's production will have been lost. The large meat packing companies have been talking to foreign meat suppliers to substitute imports of beef from Ireland and Brazil, lamb from New Zealand and Ireland and pork from Denmark and Holland, according to the BMPA. Mr Roberts said he did not know how prices would be affected.

Any extended ban on movement would affect British sheep and pig producers particularly hard. The peak season for slaughtering British lamb is just beginning, and if lambs cannot be moved to abattoirs, they will become too fat to meet retailers' specifications and lose value.
The same problem affects pigs. "There is a window of just one week to 10 days once animals reach their peak," Sir Don explained. With pigs, animal welfare quickly becomes an additional problem if there is a bottleneck in the production cycle - pregnant sows keep producing piglets and housing becomes overcrowded.

The Meat and Livestock Commission said it expected limited movement of animals direct from farms to abattoirs to be allowed this week, with many slaughterhouses working overtime through the coming weekend to replace stocks unless further cases were confirmed.

Source: The Guardian
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