Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Mounting pressure prompts PAPs rethink

Strict rules on the use of processed animal proteins (PAPs) introduced in 2001 to combat Transmissable Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) could soon be reviewed.

With growing pressure on the European Commission from the agriculture sector to consider a possible reintroduction of PAPs in animal feed, MEPs have thrown their support behind the proposals.

Of course the devastating effects of TSE and BSE are still hauntingly vivid for all in the industry. This led to the 2001 introduction of EU control measures to combat the spread of BSE. These measures included a ban on the feeding of processed animal proteins to animals kept, fattened or bred for the production of food. Effectively, don’t feed animal protein to other animals to prevent any spread of the disease.

Efforts to combat TSE by the EU have been successful, but the EU protein deficit and constant increase in feed prices have prompted increasing calls for a review of the rules. MEPs have clearly been listening and their decision has largely been welcomed, with some claiming it to be a useful step in unwinding TSE regulations.

The Commission’s TSE Roadmap 2 strategy paper has set out proposals which would allow pig and poultry protein to be used in animal feed. It would allow pigs to be fed poultry protein and poultry to be fed pig protein. Importantly though, bans on protein from cattle and sheep in animal feed and on protein being fed to animals of the same species would remain in force.

Understandably, the issue remains sensitive and highly emotive both within the industry and among consumers. If a decision is made to reintroduce pig and poultry protein in animal feed it is unlikely to come into force until the latter part of 2012. In July the European Parliament adopted a non-legislative resolution supporting the gradual lift of the ban on feeding animal protein to non-ruminants, provided further safeguards are put in place. These safeguards include stipulating that the processed animal proteins must come from species not linked to TSE and may be fed only to non-herbivores. It has also stressed that only PAPs fit for human consumption should be used.

Consumer confidence will no doubt be key to the success of any amendments to the current legislation and potential future developments. It remains of paramount importance that exceptional animal and public health standards must be maintained to help ensure that all of the hard work carried out to combat TSE is not undone. As such, caution will be the watchword with regards to any changes to the status quo.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Reducing meat consumption will not address environmental challenges

Thanks to single issue pressure groups like Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday, consumers are increasingly being led to believe that they should cut back their carnivorous habits in order to ‘save the planet’.

Livestock production does have a significant ‘carbon hoofprint’, as it has done for centuries, emitting 5% of the UK’s carbon emissions, largely methane and other gases expelled as a result of the natural digestive process. Taking that figure at face value, living on a diet of vegetables and cereals, which account for 2% of UK emissions, would seem like a simple way to reduce emissions. But it’s just not as simple as the pressure groups would have us believe.

If consumption of meat reduced, there would be a fall in livestock numbers which would lead to a net reduction in emissions from the sector. However, reducing consumption would not make livestock production more efficient. The carbon footprint of the beef produced would be the same. Surely the real drive should be to increase efficiency to physically reduce emissions from each animal? If not, then we could vastly decrease global emissions simply by reducing the number of vehicles on the road rather than pursuing the current strategy of investing in greener engine technology.

People would still need to eat if meat consumption was reduced, so there would have to be a corresponding rise in production of other foodstuffs which would have its own negative environmental impact – devaluing the gain achieved by lower meat production.

Simply digging up areas currently grazed by cattle and sheep to plant them with more crops to maintain food security for the country is not feasible. Much of the countryside currently grazed by ruminants, in particular the hills, moors and less favoured areas, is not suitable for food production. And in the areas where you can cultivate the land, on top of the negative effect that increased production would have, digging up grassland would release vast amounts of carbon which had been captured from the atmosphere and stored in these natural carbon sinks, managed effectively by grazing animals.

Allied to this, and an issue frequently overlooked by many campaigners, is the vital role played by farmers and their stock in terms of countryside stewardship. Grasslands in general, and hill and upland environments in particular, fundamentally depend on beef and sheep production. If these areas were not maintained by grazing animals, valuable wildlife habitats would be lost, and the quintessentially English landscape of rolling green pastures would no longer exist. Some areas would need to be actively managed in an alternative manner which again would have its own carbon cost.

The livestock industry is investing heavily in research and development to cut emissions (the two EBLEX roadmaps are a good example of this), and figures show that significant progress has already been made, with 5% fewer prime animals being required to produce each tonne of meat in 2008 than in 1998. Rather than cutting meat consumption therefore, ensuring instead that consumers are encouraged to buy high quality, farm-assured beef and lamb is the best way to help 'save the planet' through decreased emissions from meat production.

Find out more about livestock and climate change in our previous blog, Putting the record straight on climate change .

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Currency fluctuations should not affect export confidence

Exports of beef and lamb from England are doing exceptionally well. Latest figures show beef is 42% up on last year (year to date - HMRC) while lamb has risen slightly by 5.6% (year to date - HMRC). By the end of 2012, EBLEX has committed to pushing beef exports to 20% of total production. From a standing start in May 2006 when we were allowed back into the export market, this is a significant achievement and a testament to the quality of the beef and lamb produced. Beef from the UK is again a major player on the world market, while our lamb is being exported to an increasing number of overseas markets.

However, the fact that this is set against a background of tightening supply and the potential for slowing demand on the domestic front, has prompted some to ask if it is healthy to be putting such an emphasis on exports. This debate has been fuelled by the Eurozone crisis and perceived volatility in the currency market. The natural question this prompts is: what if exports collapse tomorrow because of a currency crash?

Inevitably, there are daily fluctuations in the currency market, specifically in Sterling against the Euro, but these remain relatively minor. Sterling has remained weak against its closest neighbour for the past year, with a general downward trend over the past 12 months, and has mirrored its movements against the US Dollar. And most farmers will understand that a weak Pound relative to the Euro means a higher Single Farm Payment.

Much of the meat on the global market is traded in Dollars and both Sterling and the Euro have remained relatively stable against it, gaining slightly in strength since the start of the year.

The reality is that all three appear to be competing to out do each other in a “which performs worst” contest. All three are in the same boat which means it is unlikely that any single currency will suddenly gain enough ground from one of the others to significantly alter the balance of currency valuations and thus significantly affect exports – although without the benefit of crystal ball, nothing can be ruled out absolutely.

We should take heart though that all forecasts point to a tightening of the global supply of meat while the population continues to grow, logically pointing to continued robust, if not increased, demand for quality beef and lamb around the world.

You can read EBLEX latest beef and lamb market outlook reports by clicking here.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Avoiding bluetongue complacency

For over a month now, Great Britain has been officially free from bluetongue (BTV8). Heralded as a triumph of partnership working between the government, farmers and vets in eradicating a serious disease, there is little doubt it has marked a major milestone for the industry and one that EBLEX welcomes.

The devastating effects of bluetongue speak for themselves - reduced milk yields, abortions, deaths and reduced fertility. Yet while the eradication of bluetongue has been cause for industry celebration, understandable concerns remain about the potentially negative side effects of being bluetongue-free. Not least, the prevention of farmers vaccinating their animals against the disease.

Animals entering Great Britain from bluetongue zones will continue to meet rigorous import conditions, and testing of animals imported from high risk countries will also continue. Current legislation, however, prohibits vaccination within a bluetongue-free zone and farmers have been urged to avoid complacency and remain vigilant and alert for potential outbreaks. Further advice from Defra on the issue can be read here.

With the last case of bluetongue in Great Britain being reported in 2008, nobody involved in the industry wants to see a return to the situation we faced with the 2007 outbreak. The Bluetongue Directive prevents animals being vaccinated unless a bluetongue zone is in place. The debate about permitting vaccination in bluetongue-free zones rages on with the Government pressing the European Commission to use the vaccination more flexibly. In the interim, vigilance clearly remains key and EBLEX will continue to support all efforts to keep the disease at bay in England.

You can find out more about bluetongue in our Sheep Diseases Directory.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The facts about red meat and health

It appears that red meat is fair game for everyone these days. Not content with livestock production being blamed disproportionately for climate change, as we mentioned in this blog last week, it seems that increasingly the media, pressure groups and some charities are habitually recommending a diet low in red meat to protect against certain cancers.

Lean red meat, correctly cooked, is a valuable source of protein containing a range of nutrients, particularly iron, and if eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet it plays an important part in an individual’s nutrition.

It is unfortunate that this message is more often than not overshadowed by disappointing headlines. Cancer Research UK statistics published last week revealed a man’s risk of bowel cancer has doubled since the 1970s. The organisation’s advice to help reduce the chances of developing cancer includes a diet low in red and processed meat.

It is interesting to look at consumption figures for red meat for the corresponding period. Figures from AHDB Market Intelligence show a 10.5% fall in red meat consumption per capita between 1975 and 2008. That rises to 20% per capita if you look at the period between 1970 and 2010. This seems to contradict the advice that reducing red meat consumption helps reduce risk of bowel cancer. This, unfortunately, is a fact that headlines fail to reflect.

Hot on the heels of this report came another suggesting women’s cancers in Britain are higher than in other parts of Europe. Again, among other measures like reducing alcohol intake, it suggested limiting consumption of red meat to reduce risk. Again, those same statistics show that red meat consumption per capita has been falling for 40 years.  How, then, will the single step of limiting red meat consumption for those who already eat a healthy balanced diet make an impact?

The reality is that cancers are complex and multiple factors can contribute to a rise in likelihood of developing certain types. Individuals may also be at a higher risk because of a combination of lifestyle choices, including a lack of exercise, smoking and drinking, rather than consumption of a single protein. There are also negative consequences for older people who may end up not eating enough red meat because they are often lacking in iron, vitamin B12, zinc and vitamin D, of which red meat is a rich source of.

It seems then that a more balanced approach to the way published health studies are reported could paint a more complete picture to inform the public about decisions on their diet.

You can find out more about the beneficial aspects of red meat by visiting the meat and health website.