Beef trade drops due to pressure from COVID-19

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UK fresh and frozen beef exports fell 1,100 tonnes year-on-year during May, to 8,900 tonnes, according to the latest HMRC data. Small declines were recorded in shipments to most markets. During May much of Europe was still under strict COVID-19 control measures, which changed demand dynamics – out of home consumption was lower, but in home consumption rose. As in the UK, there would also have been some changes in the type of products and cuts consumed.

While exports of primary beef may have declined, exports of processed beef and offal both recorded modest rises, 400 and 100 tonnes respectively.

The value of total beef exports (including primary, processed and offal) declined 10% on-the-year, to £38.6 million. The drop in primary beef trade volumes drove this, although there were also lower prices for this category.

During May UK exports of cattle hides recovered slightly from exceptionally low levels recorded in April. The price of hides remains under pressure which is contributing to the current limited profitability of the fifth quarter for processors.


During May UK imports of fresh and frozen primary beef declined 2,700 tonnes, to 16,500 tonnes. Almost half of this decline came from a drop in shipments from Ireland. Product availability during May was lower year-on-year in Ireland. This was due to many of the abattoirs working at much reduced capacity in response to COVID-19 social distancing regulations. Irish processors may also have used the Irish equivalent of the UK furlough scheme which allowed part-time furloughing. Having this option meant some abattoirs may have further reduced processing capacity. Imports of processed beef also fell during the month, down 1,500 tonnes to 3,700 tonnes. Around 60% of processed beef imported during the month was of corned beef, the vast majority of which is imported from Brazil.

The value of total beef imports dropped 17%, to £78 million.


By Rebecca Wright

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