The year had barely begun when ‘horsegate’ hit the headlines and rarely left them until the late spring and understandably so, with the EBLEX press office fielding more than 100 enquiries on the subject alone.
Earlier this month, the interim report of the Elliott Review set out the current weaknesses of supply chain networks in the UK, ahead of the final report to be published in spring 2014, and suggests measures that can be taken to address them. We will, of course, continue to support all efforts being made to ensure that serious incidents such as ‘horsegate’ don’t happen again. The important thing to remember is this was not a UK problem and all issues were with imported products with long supply chains. However, there are still lessons to be learned.
Ultimately, integrity of the supply chain is crucial for the industry and it must be prepared to let independent auditing take place to help protect consumer confidence on provenance and traceability and help it move forwards in 2014 and beyond.
The extreme weather also made the first few months of 2013 exceptionally difficult for English livestock farmers with a bout of heavy snow coinciding with the peak of the lambing season, causing sheep farmers to suffered serious losses. Consequently, the start of 2013 undoubtedly proved to be a challenge on many fronts.
‘Horsegate’ and extreme weather aside, there were plenty of positives in 2013, from ongoing export successes to research and development work to help drive on-farm efficiencies and help improve returns for producers. Our export team has again been incredibly busy at international trade shows throughout the year and helping Defra secure market access for beef and lamb.
Highlights included the re-opening of the Russian market and the rise in sheep meat exports to Hong Kong. An EBLEX-organised round table at Anuga with secretary of State Owen Paterson also focused on actions the Government could take to secure the opening of key markets for red meat exports.
On another note, we continued to work towards helping the industry improve its environmental credentials, including the launch of the carbon calculator for sheep farmers in January and the research and development work behind helping beef and sheep farmers reduce their water footprint. EBLEX also contributed to the wider debate in the All Party Parliamentary Group for beef and Lamb’s inquiry into the carbon footprint of the beef cattle and sheep sector.
Working to help farmers become more efficient and deliver better returns from their enterprises is another cornerstone of EBLEX’s work and 2013 was again no exception. Work included a series of in-depth workshops such as those on profitable lamb production to help optimise flock output and the launch of Stocktake benchmarking report which highlighted the gap between average and top third herds and flocks, where enterprises are performing well and where improvements can be made.
Looking ahead to 2014, with the conclusion of the consultation on a proposed Halal assurance scheme in mid-January and a Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) for West Country Beef and Lamb set to be in place following a five-month consultation process, the New Year will start in similar busy fashion. With the AHDB Outlook Conference 2014 also taking place on February 12, it looks very much like we’ll be off to a flying start again in 2014.