Warning of festive season beef shortfall
Families planning to tuck into a Christmas dinner joint of British beef could face "sky high" prices and even shortages, Westcountry MPs and farmers have warned.
Prices have begun to rise sharply as the effects of the bovine TB epidemic is felt and global demand soars, experts claim.
Devon farmer Richard Haddock, who was forced to sell his 320-acre beef farm after an outbreak of TB two years ago, predicts supplies could run out before the festive period.
He claims demand from overseas buyers for British cattle, together with the huge number of infected animals being slaughtered because of TB, is already starting to push beef prices through the roof.
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Mr Haddock, a former National Farmers Union national livestock chairman who farms near Brixham in South Devon, said the effect of the TB epidemic on the national beef herd had been played down.
"All people hear about is the impact on dairy herds, but it's the beef sector where the effects of the slaughter are really being felt," he said.
"So many farmers have had to kill cows because of TB that we simply haven't got the breeding stock any more.
"Now they are killing heifers as fast as they can to meet the demand for exports, and it's difficult to see where the future breeding stock is coming from."
Mr Haddock points to deadweight prices for beef which have already leapt, with some major retailers reportedly paying up to £3.70 a kilo for native breeds.
He said he was struggling to source affordable beef for his Churston farm shop.
"The fact is that consumers have also got to brace themselves for pork and poultry becoming more expensive because of the huge rise in feed costs, but we are almost certainly looking at a situation ten or 12 weeks ahead where there simply won't be enough top-quality British beef to go round – and people are going to have to make do with second-rate imports," he added.
Neil Parish, Tory MP for Tiverton and Honiton and a former chairman of the EU's agricultural committee, predicts supplies will become "tight" as South American production also slows and growing economies, such as China, eat more meat.
"There's a good chance the price will go up but I am reasonably optimistic the supply will be there – people will just have to pay a bit more," he said.
"We are losing a good number of cattle and that's having an effect, which is why we have to tackle the disease, but if there's a good price for producing beef animals farmers usually react quite well so I hope the market will pick up."
The Government said beef farmers are currently "benefiting from a high price" with a Defra spokesman adding that supplies would "continue to be good across the UK".
Cornish Conservative MP George Eustice, whose family run a farm in his Camborne and Redruth constituency, said the rise in prices "underlines the importance in getting to grips with TB".
"There are other factors, such as growing demand from emerging economies and long term we need to get more people into the British beef farming industry," he added.