AFTER spending the last 18 months redeveloping the export market for British cattle and beef, the UK cattle industry is once again facing a ban on its products abroad.
The confirmation of FMD in Surrey at the end of last week and the subsequent ban on British red meat exports is costing the industry £10m per week in lost trade.
And it has also brought to a standstill the growing export market for UK cattle and sheep genetics.
Sheila Eggleston, from Hexham-based Eggs-port, said she had potential buyers from Portugal on the phone to her yesterday morning wondering what was happening.
She said: “We had already selected potential cattle for these buyers and they were due to come over in a few weeks time to look at the cattle and hopefully export them to Portugal. But now the whole operation has been put on hold.”
Ms Eggleston added that they were also collecting embryos from cattle for export to New Zealand but the export ban meant that the embryos would never be sent.
She said: “We’ve spent the last 18 months promoting UK cattle genetics abroad and now our entire business has been axed overnight.
“There is a real fear that some of these buyers might go elsewhere. If this FMD outbreak does turn out to be caused by negligence then that company or institute has to accept responsibility.
“It is a real blow to the farmers working hard to produce top quality cattle and sheep and to the companies who are promoting their stock abroad.”
Once the UK is declared free of FMD then it will take about three months for exports of UK genetics to resume to the EU, although special dispensations may be made for Scotland and Wales to allow them to resume exports earlier.
However, it may take much longer to get the ban lifted outside the EU as the Government will have to negotiate with each country, taking into account their own legislation and trade concerns.
The National Beef Association (NBA) fears a long-term export ban could cause the domestic price of British meat to plummet.
And these fears have been echoed by the National Farmers’ Union director of communications Anthony Gibson.
Mr Gibson said: “We know from long and bitter experience that a ban on exports leads to very low prices. Further price cuts could be the last straw for an awful lot of people.”
Mr Gibson said an export ban effectively made UK meat producers into “captive sellers” to the domestic market. He appealed to retailers and abattoirs not to take advantage of the foot-and-mouth outbreak as a means of pushing down the prices they pay to UK producers. “We hope movements of animals will resume in the next two to three days. If we get it right we want to be able to minimise the damage.
“If things go wrong and we do get further outbreaks and people in the meat trade move to exploit the situation, we could be looking at costs running into tens of millions of pounds,” he said.
Kim Haywood, director of the NBA which represents around 3,000 producers and has its headquarters in Hexham, said: “What we are concerned about is a complete and utter price crash when farmers desperately need to get as much money from the market as possible.”