The tightness of European Union cattle and pig supplies is
undermining the bloc's meat production more severely than had been thought,
turning it back into a net beef importer and limiting its ability to exploit pork export opportunities.
US Department of Agriculture foreign staff cut their estimate
for this year's EU pork exports, outside the region, by 145,000 tonnes, cautioning
that the impact of upgraded pig husbandry standards on the industry had been
greater than had been thought – causing "crisis" in Poland.
"EU pork exports are forecast to stagnate as a result of the
lower domestic supply," the USDA staff said in a report, even while noting the
potential for shipments caused by clampdowns by China and Russia on supplies
from the likes of the US, on grounds of the use of the growth stimulant ractopamine.
"In 2013, opportunities for export remain as more plants are
eligible to export directly to China, and Russia has imposed bans on pork from
the US, Canada and Brazil."
'Scarcity of animals'
For beef, the EU returned to being a net importer of the meat
last year, and looks like remaining so this year thanks to the impact of tight
supplies on reducing overall cattle slaughter, forecast dropping to 27.2m head
this year – the lowest on records going back to 1960.
"The lower slaughter is mainly a result of the scarcity of
animals," the USDA staff said, acknowledging that they had previously "underestimated"
the impact of the herd decline.
The estimate for EU stocks of beef cows was downgraded by
65,000 head below 12.0m animals.
"The EU cattle herd is shrinking due to phasing out of
government support programmes. The herd has further been reduced by the surge
in exports of cattle and beef to Turkey in 2011."
The squeeze on cattle supplies - evident in record steer and
cow carcass prices, as measured in the Netherlands – will leave the EU an
importer of some 50,000 tonnes of beef in 2013.
However, the report also highlighted some pressure within
the EU towards rebuilding cattle herds, notably in Ireland, where dairy farmers
are preparing to ramp up output after the lifting of milk production quotas.
"The Irish dairy and beef sector is optimistic due to higher
dairy and meat prices and anticipated opportunities from the liberalisation of
the dairy sector.
"The dairy sector has seen a large increase in cattle under
1 year and between 1-2 years old, as well as reduced slaughter."