FMD: supply fears grow

British supplies could start to tighten if FMD movement restrictions remain in place to the end of the week, meat bosses have warned.

While the industry's first priority is to eradicate the disease, the meat sector is keen to establish a sensible system that allows movement to slaughter, said the British Meat Processors Association's new director, Stuart Roberts.

"The key word there is sensible - we're fully behind Defra and the others and the first priority is to stop the spread, we don't want to end up in a position like in 2001."

However, he said while most of his members still had some levels of stock to supply, a week without slaughter would begin to have an impact. "If we're to go a week without movement it would become increasingly difficult to source British product."

Roberts said the impact would vary from species to species, but said the most likely to be hit first would be pork, followed by lamb and then cattle, although he added that mince supply would be affected early on as well.

Graham Bidston, chief executive of the National Federation of Meat and Food Retailers, echoed Roberts' concerns that a continued ban on movement would result in British meat sources drying up.

"Britain sources its meat from a variety of places and the global market means that meat prices will stabilise, although it is not in our best interests to suck in imports," he said.

"Meat will still be widely available but from different sources. The consumers that will suffer will be those looking for locally sourced, or even organic meat."

The BMPA is also concerned about the European Commission's decision to change the health marking on British meat. Suppliers must now use a round or crossed symbol for product that was culled after 15 July, rather than oval.

Roberts said the industry was not being given time to change over and the fact the new health marks were being applied retrospectively would cause further problems for the sector.

"The health mark isn't just something that appears on the carcases, it's on boxes, bags and retail packs. We're looking for a sensible solution to comply with the decision and we're looking for a constructive approach to make the system work."

He also had concerns about the impact of a crossed health mark on consumer perceptions: "What might that mean to consumers if they see a mark with a big cross through it?"