The UK meat industry is in its most precarious state in 25 years and a summer of uncertainty could force some suppliers to close, a leading industry body has warned.
Expensive cuts of beef have doubled in price in the past six months, with fillet steak now costing £23 per kg - almost the same price as foie gras and native lobster.
Traditionally, more than 70% of meat in the UK has been sourced from Brazil and Argentina, but a self-imposed ban on beef exports in Argentina and foot-and-mouth concerns in Brazil mean only a tiny fraction of the amount of meat previously imported from the two countries is now arriving in the UK.
The ban, along with changes in global eating trends and more demand for steak cuts from countries such as Russia and India, has pushed up meat prices to "extortionate levels", suppliers have warned.
Nigel Tottman, managing director of meat suppliers Nigel Fredericks and chairman of the National Association of Catering Butchers, pointed out that beef was not the only meat that had gone up in price.
"While in the past there were other types of meat - such as lamb, pork and poultry - to fall back on when beef went up in price, increases are now across the board," Tottman told Caterer. "I've been in the industry for 25 years and this is the toughest market we've been involved in."
Tottman also warned that the situation could get worse before it got better. "We could be looking at 12 months before large amounts of meat start coming out of Brazil again," he said. "There are some tough times ahead. We are all living month to month and there are businesses that will be forced to close. I think in the long term we're going to have to get used to the fact that high prices are here to stay."
By Tom Vaughan
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