The reduction in the Chinese pig herd as a result of the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) will create opportunities for alternative proteins, including beef, according to the European Commission.

Addressing MEPs at a debate on the future of the beef sector, acting deputy director at DG Agri Michael Scannell said the demand for protein in China could not be filled by pigmeat alone.

Scannell said the pig sector was doing extremely well as a result of the outbreak and increasing pork prices would work to the benefit of beef producers.

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Consumption

On the beef sector itself, Scannell said it was hard to look at it in isolation. He said prices were weak and the sector faced challenges from a fall in consumption and a change in consumption patterns.

Across the EU prices for R3 cattle have fallen by 4% over the last 12 months. Prices in Poland have fallen the most, down by 9%, while Ireland and the UK have seen drops between 5.5% and 6%. In contrast, there have been modest increases in France, Belgium and Romania.

Scannell said beef consumption had fallen by 4.5% per capita in the last 10 years. Over the same period, consumption of poultry meat had risen by 22%. Europeans are now eating three times as much chicken as beef.

He said this was driven by issues around health, nutrition and climate change.

The rise in plant-based alternatives was also flagged. Scannell said they were yet to have an impact but they would begin to weigh on the market at some point.

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Imports

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuiness asked whether beef imports from Mercosur countries were weighted predominately towards high-value steak cuts.

Scannell said this was the case but stressed the “need to look at trade in animal products, including beef across the full spectrum of products”.

For example, he said the big win for beef exports to China was in relation to offal. Beef livers, which are of low value in Europe, have a high value in China.

“If you can secure market access for these types of subsidiary products, which are certainly by no definition, not at least in Europe, high-value products, there are huge gains to be made,” Scannell said.

“Certainly as things stand now in Europe, in the beef sector, we export an awful lot more value than we import to the benefit of the sector. Yes, we do lose in certain categories here and there but the overall picture is that we are winners.”

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