LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg City. Beef and veal production will fall in 2019. Fewer animals were available on the European slaughter cattle and meat markets. In particular, fewer cows were hooked. Higher slaughter weights limit the decline in beef production to 1.1%.
Fewer cattle were delivered to notifiable slaughterhouses in the European Union last year than in 2018. According to provisional data from the Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat), the number of animals cut up fell by 459,000 or 1.7% to 26.28 mill. The decline in beef production was somewhat less pronounced due to the higher slaughter weights, with a drop of 1.1% to 7.84 mill. t. The limited supply of cows for slaughter was partly responsible for the lower slaughter volume in the Community. With 7.24 mill. animals, 5.4% fewer old cows came on the hooks of slaughterhouses than in the previous year.
According to Eurostat, the decline in the number of bulls and steers was more moderate; the number of animals slaughtered here fell by 0.7% to 8.51 mill. animals compared to the previous year. In the case of calves, the quantity delivered to slaughterers remained relatively constant at 4.49 mill. head, but in the case of young cattle up to twelve months of age, there was a significant decline of 6.5% to 1.58 mill. head throughout the EU due to the much lower supply in Spain. Only for heifers for slaughter an increase in slaughterings was recorded last year, namely by 2.5% to 4.47 mill. animals.
In 2019, the EU member states with the most significant losses in slaughter volumes were the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium, where between 5.4 and 5.7% fewer cattle were processed than in the previous year. In the Netherlands, beef production declined particularly sharply by 7.6% compared to the EU, as fewer heavy large cattle were slaughtered, while the number of calves cut up rose slightly compared to 2018. At 4.6%, the decline in cattle slaughtering in Poland was only slightly smaller. The reason for this was the lower number of female animals. In France, the country with the most cattle in the Community, animal deliveries to processing plants fell by 1.7%; beef production fell by 2.2% to 1.43 mill. t.
For Germany, Eurostat reported a slight increase of 0.5% to 3.43 mill. slaughtered cattle and a rise in related meat production of 2.3% to 1.23 mill. t. However, these figures differ from the provisional data for commercial meat production published by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) at the beginning of February. Although the figures quoted by Eurostat for 2019 largely correspond to those of the Federal Office, there are differences in the previous year's figures for 2018.
According to the statisticians, the slaughter volume in this country has therefore fallen by 0.8% compared to 2018 and the beef volume has only risen by 0.9%. Among the larger beef producers in the EU, meat production has otherwise only increased in Sweden and Spain; among the Iberians, the increase was the strongest at 4%. Apart from the slightly higher slaughter of heifers, the main reason for this was the increased processing of bulls.
Despite the overall decline in the supply of slaughter cattle, producer prices in the EU have weakened in 2019. One reason for the price weakness is probably also the fact that in 2019 EU citizens consumed less beef for the first time in years.
According to estimates by the Brussels Commission, consumption has fallen by around 1% compared to 2018. In addition, world market prices for beef were below the previous year's level due to the greater supply over longer stretches of 2019; only in the last quarter of the year did prices rise significantly due to strong demand from China.
In its market forecast of autumn 2019, which is still valid at present, the EU Commission assumes that beef production in the Community will continue to decline slightly by 0.7% in 2020. A similar development is expected for consumption. In the meantime, the livestock census results from December 2019 are known and support the forecast. The total cattle population in the EU was down 1% year-on-year to 86.59 mill. head of cattle; for dairy cows, the herd decreased by 1.2% to 22.63 mill. head.
The EU's trade in beef with third countries has developed differently over the past year. According to the Commission, exports including live animals and by-products increased by 1.6% to 745,200 t slaughter weight compared to 2018. Pure meat exports developed more dynamically with an increase of 4.4% to 520,800 t. In terms of live exports, the number of cattle exported remained stable at around one million head, but their weight - converted to slaughter weight - fell by 4.4% to 224,410 t. Overall, sales to third countries brought exporters € 2.45 bn. in cash, € 26 mill. or 1% less than in 2018.
In contrast, EU beef imports declined by 6.6% to 318,420 t SW. The import bill fell by € 87 mill. or 4.6% to just under € 1.8 bn. Less beef came from Brazil to the EU internal market last year; although the South American country remained the most important supplier with 128,340 t, it sold 8.5% less goods in the Community. Imports from Uruguay, Australia and the United States also declined noticeably, while Namibia and Canada were each able to increase their sales in the EU by around 88% compared to 2018.