Thursday, 27 December 2012

Review of 2012

With 2012 about to draw to an end, what better time to take a look back at some of the events of our year?

January saw the launch of the third chapter of the EBLEX environmental roadmap, Down to Earth, to an audience of journalists and stakeholders in London. With the first two instalments, Change in the Air and Testing the Water, the roadmaps provide a single cohesive document, examining a wide range of issues linked to the overall carbon hoofprint of the English beef and lamb sector. Watch out for an update on progress in January 2013.

Around the same time, Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Andrew George launched our week-long Landscapes without Livestock exhibition at Westminster. The exhibition drew attention to the Landscapes without Livestock report, highlighting the crucial role livestock plays in maintaining the English countryside. It drew attention to the potential impact on some of England’s most cherished landscapes if beef cattle herds and sheep flocks declined or disappeared as a result of the industry becoming unsustainable.

Exports gathered further momentum this year, particularly with the development of non-EU markets. Significantly, access for beef and lamb to the Russian market re-opened recently and shipments of beef are expected to start early in the new year. British beef was also showcased recently by a delegation from the industry, led by Secretary of State Owen Paterson, to Hong Kong. With access to more than 50 non-EU markets, our work is helping producers capitalise on the opportunities that are presented.

Our Better Returns Programme continued to help beef and sheep producers identify where improvements can be made to the businesses with more than 250 events held this year. Areas covered ranged from breeding and selection for slaughter, to nutrition and improving grazing management.

On the marketing front, 2012 has also been very active with our first TV advertising campaign for four years, communicating to consumers that cooking with beef and lamb can be very simple and rewarding. EBLEX also joined forces with Henry Herbert, one half of the Fabulous Baker Brothers, to launch a Master Butchery scheme in association with Quality Standard Mark beef and lamb.

Bringing industry stakeholders and others with an interest in the industry together is another key area we have developed, notably with our northern and south west regional conferences and the inaugural processor conference earlier this year.

In a similar vein we also played a significant role in the re-establishment of the All Party Parliamentary group for Beef and Lamb under the chairmanship of Neil Parish MP. The latest meeting on exports and related issues proved most valuable in raising awareness among parliamentarians and we are looking forward to further productive dialogue in 2013.

There is far too much to cover in one blog and this one just scratches the surface of EBLEX activity this year. Suffice to say, we look forward to continuing working with you for a sustainable and efficient beef and lamb sector in 2013.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Getting the message through on opportunities for beef and lamb exports

Recognition of a job well done is always welcome. A number of times this year we have highlighted the amount of work carried out in capitalising on new export opportunities for beef and lamb.

This work has included a focus on the development of new markets, particularly non-EU markets, with the most recent success being the re-opening of market access to Russia.

Last week our head of trade development, Peter Hardwick, gave a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Beef and Lamb, updating members and non-members, as well as representatives from organisations including the NFU and NSA, on exports and exported-related issues.

Addressing the meeting, Peter outlined the global opportunities for beef and lamb and highlighted global markets, consumption shifts, export opportunities and progress on market access.

It provided a fantastic opportunity for EBLEX to detail the current state of play on exports and clearly left an impression on those who attended. As part of a wider House of Commons backbench debate on animal welfare (exports) the same day, EBLEX’s work was commended by Beef and Lamb APPG chairman Neil Parish MP and vice chairman Roger Williams MP.

The level of engagement among attendees at the APPG meeting was excellent, prompting questions and debate on a range of topics, from disease outbreak and control to the outlook for beef and lamb prices in the new year.

Coming to the end of another busy year, this recognition of our work and the ability to stimulate debate among a wide range of industry stakeholders is encouraging as we move forwards to meet fresh challenges in 2013.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Getting the next generation into farming

It will come as no surprise to anyone that, according to a recent BBC article, the average age of a UK farm holder is 58, 58% of UK farms are in the hands of over-55s and only 3% are held by under-35s.

With stats like this appearing all too often in the media, encouraging young people to enter the farming industry has become a key priority over recent years. It was a theme EBLEX chairman John Cross touched on at our annual conference when he said that the beef and sheep sector can only capitalise on the current market potential by attracting highly skilled young people in order to keep the momentum going.

With this in mind, the fact that two recent events have put young people in the livestock sector in the spotlight and recognised the valuable role they place is something which should be welcomed.

The first of these was the joint levy PhD seminar hosted by BPEX, DairyCo, EBLEX, HCC and QMS. The annual event brings together PhD and MSc students who we support in order to both provide information relevant to our research priorities and to stimulate their interest in careers in the livestock sector. More information about the students’ projects can be found on our website.

Every funded student gives a presentation about their project, with a prize being awarded for the best presentation from a final year student. This year the award went to Laura Cavill for her PhD looking at methods of detection, elimination and control of Clostridium estertheticum in the red meat industry.

The breadth and depth of knowledge demonstrated by the students at the seminar was certainly impressive and the ambition is that they will go on to make good use of their skills with fulfilling careers within the livestock industry.

The second event was the NFU Future of Livestock Conference, aimed specifically at those under-40 and working in the livestock sector, which took place earlier this week. Attended by over 100 delegates, and with a range of high-profile speakers addressing the issue of how 21st century beef and sheep farmers can feed the nation, it was hard not to leave with the impression of a forward-thinking and vibrant industry.

For those who remain unconvinced, initiatives such as Farmers Weekly’s Farmers Apprentice and Farmers Guardian’s FG 26/46 are also doing a lot to profile young entrants to the agricultural sector and the opportunities on offer to them. Hopefully some day soon these messages will also trickle through to the wider media.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Russia - land of export opportunity

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that UK beef and lamb could soon be back on the menu in Russia, with exports potentially worth millions to the industry.

Defra's announcement that exports of beef and lamb to Russia are to resume was welcome news. The opportunity speaks for itself, with our estimates suggesting that the deal could be worth between £80 million and £115 million over three years. Russia is a major importer of beef – around 600,000 tonnes – and the long-term trend in Russian production is downward.

A year ago during the Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow, the issue of securing access for UK beef and lifting the remaining import restrictions was discussed, providing a good platform for finalising an agreement.

Of course, these things don’t happen overnight and a lot of effort has gone into making this happen. Earlier this year, for example, we hosted a delegation of Russian vets who spent a week with Defra’s export team visiting farms and processing facilities, working towards developing potential market access for the UK.

Beef exports are expected to begin from a limited number of plants in the new year, with lamb exports following in April. The potential for beef exports to Russia is enormous and the latest developments underline the importance of EBLEX’s work to improve market access for beef and lamb in non-EU countries. The opening of the Russian market is part of EBLEX’s strategy to secure new markets in order to optimise returns, in particular for products for which there is a low demand internally.

Exports also provide opportunities for improved carcase utilisation and a floor to the market, giving greater flexibility for processors to absorb variations in demand in the domestic market.

As we’ve said, the announcement about Russia is welcome news and the door which has been closed for 16 years is now open for the industry to seize new opportunities.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Putting flock welfare first

The first Sheep Health and Welfare Conference, organised by the Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG) in collaboration with the National Sheep Association (NSA), took place in Worcester last week.

Over 200 farmers, vets, SQPs (animal medicines advisers) and industry stakeholders braved dire weather conditions to make it to the event, including one delegate who had a six hour journey from Devon! As EBLEX is a major supporter of SHAWG, we were delighted to see the industry coming together to discuss what is a major challenge for the industry.

While the conference presentations covered a range of issues, one which came to the fore was the benefit of having a flock health plan which addresses real problems on the farm and embracing the SCOPS (Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep) principles to reduce anthelmintic resistance. While most sheep farmers are aware that a health plan is desirable, there are undoubtedly some who treat it as a box-ticking exercise, while others have it as a standing item on their ‘to do’ list.

Hilary Mann of Waterend Farm, a firm advocate of health plans, spoke about how her plan has enabled her to reduce anthelmintic resistance by carrying out Faecal Egg Counts (FECs) and observing the SCOPS principles. Hilary’s impressive flock performance figures, combined with the fact that her approach has helped her save time and money, are certainly compelling arguments for those who remain unconvinced.

The day finished with a discussion about how the challenge of sheep scab could best be addressed in England. It was great to see unanimous support for an industry initiative for the disease, which independent livestock specialist Lesley Stubbings believes is currently costing the industry upwards of £8 million on treatments alone.

Due to the structure of the sheep industry in England, a large number of animal movements are inevitable, meaning individual flock biosecurity remains the only way to ensure a flock stays clean. There was broad support at the conference for measures to penalise those who ‘break the rules’ and fail to minimise the risk of the disease being spread between flocks.

While eradication of the disease isn’t currently a realistic goal, by pulling together as an industry there are significant steps we can take to reduce the impact of the problem.

All the presentations from the Sheep Health and Welfare Conference are now available on the EBLEX website.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hong Kong – the springboard to China

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention in the industry that beef has been at the forefront of the political agenda in the last week.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson led a trade delegation to Hong Kong to promote beef exports, the highlight of which was a reception hosted by EBLEX at the Hong Kong Jockey Club and attended by officials, importers, restaurateurs and journalists. Guests were served a fore rib of beef, dry aged on the bone for 28 days, with carving and serving supervised by EBLEX foodservice manager Hugh Judd.

While Mr Paterson acknowledged that we have been exporting to Hong Kong for some time, importantly he added that it would act as a springboard for breaking into the Chinese market. As we’re well aware China does present huge opportunities, but facilitating market access is a long process and we are under no illusion that this will happen tomorrow. Market access could take a number of years as we saw with the pig meat sector but we are moving in the right direction.

That said, the Hong Kong trip succeeded in underlining the importance exports can and do play in contributing to our economy. It also generated considerable high-profile media coverage for our products in a region which is seen as key for future growth.

Not only did it celebrate the fact that beef rib cuts and other specified bone-in products can now be exported to Hong Kong from Britain, and showcased Quality Standard beef to potential importers for EBLEX, the importance of which can’t be overstated.

As the Secretary of State said in his 'diary of a trade mission', ‘This is a global race, and we’re not going to compete by sitting at home – let’s get out there and show the world how great Britain is.’

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Access all areas

Access to information, or rather the immediacy of access to information, is something that is increasingly taken as a given these days.

While rural broadband remains an issue in some areas of the country, the government has allocated £530 million during the current spending review period to stimulate commercial investment to roll out high speed broadband in rural communities.

A commitment has also been made to invest up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in the UK for consumers and businesses in areas where coverage is poor or non-existent.

All of this is very encouraging and poignant, bearing in mind the meteoric rise in the use of smartphones and tablets to access information from pretty much anywhere. We are already seeing a rise in the number of people accessing our website from tablets and smartphones. Our website covers everything from technical information in our Better Returns Programme section and market insight to the latest industry news and is well used. The latest figures are very telling – 30 per cent of visits to the site in October were via mobile devices, with the iPad and iPhone topping the list.

In October, the number of individual visitors to the site was up 28 per cent on September at 10,846, while the site was viewed 25,152 times – up 30 per cent. Similarly, page views increased by 32 per cent at 142,961 with markets and auction reports pages proving to be most popular.

Clearly, our website is providing valuable and useful information for visitors. The next step? Work to enhance the website is constant and there is ongoing debate about creating a smartphone app to complement it, but we remain to be convinced that it would be a cost-effective use of levy payers’ money. The overarching question is whether there is a single app idea that would be of most interest/use to the majority of levy payers, thus making it worth the investment. We want to ensure we offer the most useful tools possible to the industry and make sure livestock farmers can make the most of improvements in rural connectivity. So, if you do have any thoughts on apps or online tools that would be useful, contact us on

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Emissions are falling, but the challenge remains for livestock sector

The issue of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from livestock production remains a contentious one. It is still a young science so refinements in measurements continue and different countries look at things in different ways. There is no single agreed methodology. The one absolute is that industry detractors and certain single issue pressure groups are quick to point to any figures (whether they understand them or not) as definitive proof of damage to the environment and that we should eat less meat as a result. If only we as an industry could be so sweeping and absolute in our responses. We try to rely on latest science and data though.

It is therefore always welcome when we get some positive news on this front to add to the library of information we can refer to when asked for polite, brief comment on the issue in the face of screaming, negative headlines.

Research commissioned by EBLEX, working with The E-CO2 Project, modelling emissions levels using historic data from the last 40 years, suggests GHGs from both beef and sheep meat production in the UK have fallen every decade since 1970.  The beef carbon footprint fell from 23.05kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (kg CO2-e) per kilogram liveweight, to 14.41kg CO2-e between 1970 and 2010. For sheep, the figure fell from 13.8kg CO2-e to 11.78kg CO2-e over that period.

 For the beef sector, that is a reduction in GHG output of 9.4% every decade. The figures for sheep, though hindered by a lack of consistent quality data, still showed a reduction over the period. In the last ten years alone, this delivered a credible reduction of 9.3% through greater output per ewe and reduced reliance on artificial fertiliser. There are limitations in the data, but the trend is irrefutable.

However, with the UK Climate Change Act 2008 requiring an overall reduction of 80% in GHGs from 1990 levels by 2050 across the UK economy, and Defra setting the agriculture sector an interim target to reduce its contribution to GHGs by 11% by 2020 based on 2008 figures, the scale of challenge for beef and sheep meat producers should not be underestimated.

As an industry which relies heavily on extensive production systems, it highlights the challenge faced by sheep farmers in particular looking to produce food from some of the poorest land the country has to offer. The climate and terrain play such a large part in production output, and technological and management improvements are hard won.

It would also be helpful if we were allowed to “count” the positives we bring to the environment, such as managing the countryside and keeping grazed land as an efficient carbon sink. And of, course, there is an environmental cost to whatever food production enterprise uses a given area of land. Take all these points together and we see a very different picture from the one so often painted.

We can only hope that when the FAO publishes a new assessment of GHG emissions from livestock production, hopefully before the end of the year, we will see a figure closer to 9% of all global emissions coming from livestock emissions, rather than the 18 per cent so often quoted. And we suspect when you drill down into that further, the emissions from beef may be as little as five per cent. But don’t expect solid science to stop the screaming headlines just yet.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Building on the foundations for future success

It’s been said that a goal without a plan is just a wish. At yesterday’s EBLEX annual conference, the sector’s goals and how to achieve them were clearly set out – maximise current market opportunities and attract more highly skilled youngsters into the industry to secure the future.

There’s no doubt the sector has been enjoying somewhat of a renaissance, fuelled increasingly by global demand outstripping supply.  Beef prices have been increasing and sheep meat demand is going to remain high and exceed production, so opportunities remain despite ongoing price volatility.

A number of positives could be taken from yesterday’s conference, from EBLEX’s ongoing success in developing export opportunities to meeting domestic demand and tackling environmental challenges faced by the industry. Engagement with the industry was good with many stakeholders in attendance, plus producers and processors, who were able to ask questions and air their views. During question and answer sessions, questions included, ‘should EBLEX have an elected board?’ (This requires a change in statute and something which is out of our hands), and ‘Is it time for a review of Red Tractor?’ (It is still very effective in acting as a differentiator for farm assured produce). There was also lively debate which continued long after chairman John Cross closed proceedings.

Work on exports again shone as a success story. Delegates heard how over the last two years EBLEX has helped secure access to more than 50 new non-EU markets, which is no small feat. The work, however, doesn’t stop and we continue our efforts to secure access to more markets, although this can be a complex and lengthy process.

On the domestic front, we heard how EBLEX has been campaigning to encourage people to cook more with beef and lamb, from those new to cooking through to those who cook regularly. National advertising and the ongoing promotion of new cuts of lamb, in particular, is starting to resonate with a range of audiences.  In terms of how the sector is tackling climate change issues, delegates heard how we’re on track to reach target emissions.

So, a lot of good work is already being done to consolidate the sector’s position in terms of helping producers and processors maximise potential and its increasingly crucial role in helping drive economic recovery. However, the future success of the industry lies in harnessing new talent, chairman John Cross spelled out. In his closing remarks, he left delegates with the message that while the industry has a sound future, we need to attract more highly-qualified young people to maintain the momentum.

  • Presentations from the conference can be viewed and downloaded by clicking here.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

SIAL showcase for beef and lamb exports

Today is the closing day of SIAL 2012, the world’s biggest food trade event, which takes place in Paris every two years.

Spanning eight huge halls and attracting almost 6,000 exhibitors this year, SIAL covers every sector of the food industry from fruit and vegetables to sweets and biscuits. With a hall focussed solely on meat, all the key players in the international meat market are represented and EBLEX has a well-attended stand where exporters can meet and do business.

The EBLEX stand at this year’s SIAL was themed as the St George pub. Featuring both EBLEX Quality Standard mark and Red Tractor branding, it offered a great place to meet, have a drink and enjoy a steak for lunch. As well as having a large central meeting area, the stand was designed to accommodate areas for five exporters, while other exporters attending the show were also able to make the most of the facilities available.

Away from the hustle and bustle of the show itself, EBLEX together with BPEX organised the St George dinner, which this year brought together over 300 exporters, traders, importers and wholesalers from France and most other European countries, as well as representatives from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The dinner took place in the superb Salon Opéra of the Grand Hôtel Intercontinental, in central Paris, and guests enjoyed a feast of British meat, with beef, lamb and pork all featuring on the menu.

The evening had an unmistakably upbeat feel, including a speech from the British ambassador to France, Peter Ricketts, who praised the ‘made in Britain’ brand and reaffirmed the Government’s belief that food exports are crucial to growing the UK economy. Unfortunately Secretary of State Owen Paterson was forced to cancel his trip to the show due to extreme extenuating circumstances, namely having to make a last-minute announcement on the postponement of the badger cull, however his sincere and personal apologies to senior members of the EBLEX delegation have left no-one in any doubt of his commitment to the cause.

With UK sheep meat exports to France reaching £221 million in 2011, up from £61 million in 2001, and beef exports increasing to £59 million from a standing start in 2006, it’s clear that our efforts in this market are bearing fruit. There is no doubt that it is our presence at events such as SIAL, together with the continuing efforts of the team in the EBLEX France office on a day-to-day basis, which have helped achieve this.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Accessing the market in China - part 2

Back to normality this week after a whirlwind visit to China last week for the CIMIE exhibition and a series of meetings geared towards opening the China market to beef and sheep meat products exported from the UK.

As I mentioned last week, it was my first trip and really was an assault on the senses. A truly amazing country. More than anything though it has given me a greater understanding of the complexities involved in accessing this potentially huge market for our processors and producers.

One thing really driven home to me is that we will really have to have greater respect for the product to be part of the Chinese food scene. The biggest opportunities currently for beef and sheep meat products in the Chinese market lie in the fifth quarter. The potential for increased volumes of what we view as higher end cuts and steaks are there - and are growing - but will take a while before they catch up with things like demand for paddywhacks and tendons. But we have to stop looking down our nose (or turning our nose up?), however inadvertently, at what we call fifth quarter products – those bits of the animal loosely termed offal that we have little or no domestic market for. In China, those are the premium products and command higher prices than the steaks we more commonly buy here.

We must treat the product accordingly therefore if we want to sell it to the Chinese market. It should not be discarded in a bucket in a corner of the abattoir, or appear to be simply saved from disposal, but should have clear, quality processes for collecting, checking and packing. This is what we will need to demonstrate to the Chinese delegations when they come to visit our facilities before market access can take any great strides forwards.

The Chinese do take food safety really seriously. This is because they eat parts of the animal that, if you do not get it right and handle and cook it correctly, can go very wrong. Their commitment to high food standards is huge, even though at first sight this may not seem the case.

I should also say that in a very short space of time my respect for the Chinese integrity has grown very quickly. Their own awareness of the huge challenge they have with such a vast population to feed is acute and they are working hard to address the issue. We can help become part of that solution. This is risk management on a huge scale and that comes through all the time in negotiations and is something we need to understand and respect if we want to be part of this massive market.

So through the meetings and exposure at the CIMIE event, market access continues to move forward but no one should labour under the illusion that it is going to happen tomorrow. I am convinced it will happen but the industry here in England, and the wider UK, has a lot of work to do yet.

Nick Allen
EBLEX sector director

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Accessing the market in China - part 1

David Cameron said in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference this week that China is creating an economy the size of Greece every three months. The potential benefits to us as beef and sheep meat producers in England are huge so it is vital that we are at that particular table. And that is why this week I am over in Beijing for the China International Meat Industry Exhibition (CIMIE).

Securing market access to China is a long process and ensuring visibility at events like these, meeting potential importers, is essential. It also gives us the chance to have face-to-face meetings with officials in China who actively move the process forward with the ultimate goal of allowing us to sell beef and lamb produced in England to Chinese consumers.

It is my first visit here and the first thing that strikes you is the sheer scale of everything. Beijing is vibrant and, like New York, never sleeps. It is a city where the rules of both architecture and driving have been abandoned!

After a long journey here, we went straight into a series of meetings and a conference yesterday. One incredible statistic that I took away from the conference that demonstrates the sheer number of people in China – and the potential market for us – is that every year at the moment 32 million people give up farming and become consumers. Yes, 32 million! It’s mind blowing when you stop to think about it.

It is impossible to put a value on the potential market for us here but if you look at the English pig meat sector, which finally secured market access in May after several years of negotiation, it is estimated that it could very quickly reach £50 million a year. And the first shipment only went in August. For beef and lamb, who knows what that could translate to? Total meat consumption here is currently twice that of the United States and they do not produce enough domestically to meet demand

China has the added benefit of taking bits of the animals for which there is no market domestically and little elsewhere, things like tendons, membranes and pizzles. This is an area where domestic processors can really get more value out of the carcase, potentially up to £100 per head. One of my colleagues did some calculations recently and found that in The Netherlands, for instance, they make an extra £36.50 per head through maximising fifth quarter sales. This means a theoretical loss of value to the UK beef sector of £96.5 million per annum.

So our meetings continue and I will report back by way of this blog next week. This visit is already clearly illustrating to me the challenges we face before the trading doors with China are open. It is a long road, but one we are determined to successfully navigate.

Nick Allen
EBLEX sector director

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Don’t fear the cleaver!

Fear and embarrassment. Words you’d sometimes associate with a potentially awkward visit to the local surgery.

However, they’re apparently more likely to be associated with – or rather putting off – a visit to your traditional independent butcher.

A BBC Breakfast report this week referred to an industry survey that suggested a quarter of shoppers avoid buying meat from butchers, while one in 10 find a visit to the butcher a daunting prospect. The report posed the question, ‘could confusion over cuts be to blame for shoppers opting for supermarkets instead?’

Undoubtedly, the number of independent butchers has dropped drastically in the last 30 or so years – to the tune of around 75% from 25,300 in 1977 to 6,773 in 2009, but can it really all be down to shoppers feeling daunted at the prospect of having to ask about certain cuts? After all, if your car conks out, you wouldn’t think twice about calling a mechanic, irrespective of how simple the problem may be to fix. Buying meat from a butcher surely shouldn’t cause that level of anxiety.

Joking aside, helping to give consumers more confidence when choosing cuts to cook is an important job and one where EBLEX has been taking the lead.

We have recently launched a TV advertising campaign to remind consumers the Simple Pleasures of cooking with Quality Standard beef and lamb. Focusing on the satisfaction and accomplishment of cooking a great dish with Quality Standard Mark beef or lamb, the aim is to communicate to consumers that cooking with beef and lamb can be very simple and rewarding.

Different versions on the advert focus on different consumer life-stage groups are being supported by a video-on-demand campaign, press advertising and online activity, in the form of display advertising and social media content.

In addition, EBLEX has teamed up with Henry Herbert, one half of the Fabulous Baker Brothers, to launch a Master Butchery scheme in association with Quality Standard Mark beef and lamb. Developed to help educate keen cooks on how to get the best out of their butcher, it is also aimed at encouraging them to have a go at some easy home butchery themselves.

And if that wasn’t enough, EBLEX has also launched a free app to encourage young people to get cooking with beef and lamb and master five basic meals by the age of 25 as part of the 5by25 campaign. The app aims to give novices the skills and confidence to get in the kitchen. Users can choose the dish they want to learn by searching for a main ingredient or cooking time.

Plenty going on education-wise then, so the message is clear – if you’re unsure about what beef or lamb cuts to buy or how best to prepare them, don’t fear, help is here either via EBLEX or a visit to your local butcher.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Processor-driven! New EBLEX conference proves a hit

Our annual conference and export conference are already fixtures in the industry calendar. We’ve now added a new one, specifically for processors, bringing stakeholders from the sector together in the ideal forum to discuss some of the key industry-related issues.

As anyone involved in organising and staging a conference will tell you, you’re never 100 per cent certain how it will be received until the big day. But our inaugural Processor Conference, in Warwickshire, this week proved to be a resounding success, not least because of the diverse range of subject matter covered. From packaging and meat eating quality issues, to consumer research and marketing, the discussions illustrated the full spectrum of work undertaken by EBLEX.

The event highlighted how correct management of temperature and pH, as well as management of animal stress, can have a positive effect on meat eating quality. Use of post-slaughter techniques like hip suspension and, or, electrical stimulation to improve meat tenderness were also among the key messages.

Innovative beef and lamb cuts currently being developed by the EBLEX trade marketing team tantalised the taste buds of delegates during lunch, while two question and answer sessions provided the ideal platform for delegates to raise issues with the expert panel.

Presentations covered key subjects, like latest research on beef and lamb eating quality by EBLEX head of research and development Kim Matthews. Other subjects included packaging and waste reduction by Bristol University’s Dr Ian Richardson, and the new revised EBLEX Quality Standard Mark standards with EBLEX Marketing Manager (Quality Schemes), Laura Bishop.

Dr Geraldine Duffy, EU ProSafeBeef project coordinator and head of food safety in the Teagasc Food Research Programme, Ireland, covered the latest outcomes for the EU project in relation to beef safety. Other topics under the spotlight were changing consumer trends and buying patterns for beef and lamb from EBLEX consumer marketing manager, Jane Ritchie-Smith.

Positive feedback underlined how successful the day was. If you missed it, the presentations from the conference can be downloaded by clicking here.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Sun shines on EBLEX lamb campaign

After a summer to forget weather-wise, the sun finally made an appearance to shine on the launch of our campaign to help get lamb back on the menu in foodservice establishments.

Last week saw the Five Star Lamb Tour kick-off on Romney Marsh ahead of a tour around the country, with the emphasis on education and fun. The tour will ultimately stop at Quality Standard Mark approved farms around England, specifically selected for their different breeds, terrain and unique characteristics. All locations will enable attendees to see for themselves farming methods and practices behind the scheme standards.

There’s no doubt that consumers continue to love lamb for its flavour, but it is still considered by some to be fatty, wasteful and not representing value for money. Coupled with reduced supply leading to higher prices, lamb has been positioned as a premium meat.

So, there’s no point just telling foodservice establishments to put lamb back on the menu. The importance lies in showing them what they’re missing and how versatile lamb can be.  A fantastic turn out for the launch event saw guests enjoy a farm walk around Becket Farm, highlighting land which featured in EBLEX’s Landscapes without Livestock project. It underlined why grazing the land is so important in retaining its unique characteristics. After setting the scene with a presentation on lamb selection and classification, a cutting demonstration showcased different cuts to improve carcase balance while ensuring delivery of maximum value back to the producer.

Rounding off the day, guests were invited to take part in a DIY barbecue lunch, cooking and sampling the featured cuts for themselves. Some of the photos from the launch event can be viewed by clicking on the link

With latest figures showing a fall of 2.9 per cent in the volume of lamb sales for the year to August 5, we still have some work to do. However, the work has begun in earnest in giving lamb a push and providing an excellent opportunity to bring the supply chain together, creating discussion and help them better understand the needs of each sector.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The long road to exporting to Russia

A year ago David Cameron’s visit to Moscow prompted sensational headlines amid stories of the KGB’s apparent attempt to recruit him as a young man.

The trip did, however, put the issues of Russia’s long-standing ban on British beef back on the agenda, which is something EBLEX and Defra have been working hard to address for some time.

A year on and Russia has again been in the headlines after gaining accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), heralded in several quarters as a potential major boost to European business in terms of generating greater access to the Russian market. Interestingly, it also coincided with a visit to Bryansk by Harriett Baldwin MP (Con, West Worcestershire) and Neil Parish MP (Con, Tiverton & Honiton), chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef & Lamb, when the current ban was apparently discussed.

On the face of it, Russia’s accession to the WTO sounds like a positive move from which our industry can reap great rewards. However, a more balanced perspective is needed. While Russia remains one of the largest global importers of beef and the potential for beef exports there remains enormous, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to help gain market access. In terms of veterinary access issues, Russia’s WTO accession alone is unlikely to have an impact, although it may lead to lower tariffs at some point.

The opening of the Russian market continues to be part of EBLEX’s ongoing export strategy to secure new market access to optimise returns for producers and processors in England, particularly for those cuts for which there is low or no demand domestically.

Through the Export Certification Partnership, Russia is a top priority in terms of market access and the lifting of import restrictions. Estimates have suggested that, should trade restrictions be lifted, it could be worth £115m to the UK beef industry alone in the first three years.

However, the important point to remember is that gaining market access is a long game and, while we are making progress, there is still some way to go to achieve our ultimate goal. It will take time but ultimately, improved market access for beef and lamb in non-EU countries will help improve the UK’s ability to compete in the global arena and optimise returns for producers.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Optimism in the air at Livestock 2012

It was great to see such brisk trade being done at the Livestock 2012, incorporating the Dairy Event, this week. Despite the rarest of things, two consecutive days of good weather, which meant many farmers were out harvesting rather than at a trade event at the NEC in Birmingham, attendance was good and the mood was upbeat.

The EBLEX stand had a steady flow of visitors, a mix of producers wanting to discuss specific issues, such as selling beef or lamb direct to the public, animal health or advice on selection, and colleagues from other stakeholder organisations keen to meet up and discuss latest developments in the beef and lamb sector. The launch of our new BRP manual, Better Returns from Pure Dairy-bred Male Calves, was also a talking point.

The value of events like this which bring together key industry players in one place cannot be underestimated. This was clearly demonstrated by the strong attendance at the launch of the NFU’s Bullish Prospects, setting out the NFU vision for the beef sector. It created a real buzz and genuine interest, illustrated by the range of organisations present to listen to NFU president Peter Kendall and Charles Sercombe, chair of the NFU livestock board, outline the course they thought the beef sector should be steering. Bullish Prospects calls for, among other things, a focus on supplying a consistent product, organisations working together to tackle emerging animal health issues, ensuring the positive stories about the industry are heard by consumers, and the Government to look at more efficient ways of regulation so as not to further burden farmers.

The document also referenced significantly the work of EBLEX, and in particular our own state of the industry publication, Balancing the Market. Hopefully others in the industry also see it as a useful reference point for driving the forward the sector to be more efficient and improve returns for producers, auctioneers and processors.

It was unfortunate that the Cabinet reshuffle, and in particular the unexpected departure of Faming Minister Jim Paice, who had been at the show to open it on Tuesday morning and had himself been in upbeat mood, slightly overshadowed events on the first day. There was significant praise for his work from most corners of the exhibition halls. This perhaps slightly dimmed the spotlight that was shining on noteworthy activity in the industry, like the publication of both the NFU document and the first annual report from the Cattle Health and Welfare Group. However, there remained a general mood of optimism that pervaded the conversations at the show and which signposts a positive future in the English beef and lamb sector.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Switching consumers back on to lamb

Encouraging consumers, and particularly younger people, to eat and cook lamb is undoubtedly a challenge for the industry. While we know consumers appreciate lamb for its taste, there still exists a preconception that it is fatty and, therefore, wasteful. This combined with the fact that it has become somewhat of a premium meat over the past 18 months has affected sales both at retail and within the foodservice sector.

That’s why EBLEX has launched the three-year ‘Discover Lamb’ campaign, which aims to reposition lamb as an affordable and versatile meat that families can enjoy throughout the week.

One specific element of the campaign, launching next month, features TV presenter Ben Shephard and former politician Edwina Currie. Appearing on packs of Red Tractor assured lamb in supermarkets, consumers will be invited to place a vote for either ‘Ben Shepherd’s Pie’ or ‘Edwina’s Lamb Curry’, with the incentive of being entered into a competition to win one of 25 multimedia tablets. The promotion is linked to the 5by25 campaign which, with the help of a number of charity partners, aims to encourage young people to learn how to cook five dishes by the age of 25.

In addition to the on-pack activity, Ben and Edwina will tour the country stopping at youth organisations and community centres, in a bid to get young people cooking and mastering their signature dish. Each celebrity is aiming to gain the biggest following for their dish by encouraging people to vote for their favourite via  and by spreading the word through Facebook and Twitter.

Our consumer website,, will feature on the materials and a special ‘Discover Lamb’ section will be developed. The Simply Beef and Lamb Facebook page, which has over 30,000 likes, will also be used to communicate the latest information.

‘Discover Lamb’ isn’t the first initiative of its type we have been involved with. In France, the Agneau Presto (quick lamb) campaign, which is a partnership between EBLEX, Bord Bia, and Interbev, was introduced to address a decline in lamb consumption. With an emphasis on promoting quick and easy lamb recipes, Agneau Presto features a mobile app and e-marketing in order to appeal to younger consumers, as well as in-store promotional activity. The campaign is can boast some success, with 20 pilot stores who have taken part in the initiative seeing sales increase by an average of 20% in volume terms.

Stimulating demand on the home market continues to be a key part of our strategy to generate the best returns for the industry. You can find out more about our marketing activity by visiting our consumer ( and trade ( marketing websites.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Proud of beef and lamb

Did you know the English red meat sector has a net annual worth of nearly £1.7 billion? Or that it takes just 67 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef in this country? Or that around 89,000 people are directly employed in beef and lamb production in England, with an additional 500,000 in allied industries. These are the sorts of facts it is great to drop into conversation when talking to others about our industry – but it is not always so easy to recall them on demand when there is so much else going on.

For some time, both farmers and other stakeholder organisations have told us how useful it would be to have a handy booklet with a sprinkling of industry facts in to help spread the word about our efficient production, the quality of our beef and lamb products and the size and value of production. So we have put together the Proud of Beef and Lamb booklet.

It does no more than scratch the surface of the key facts and good things about beef and lamb production but hopefully serves as a handy guide to share with others in the industry, with consumers who know little about our work and to counteract detractors of the industry keen only to focus on what they perceive as negatives.

The fact is that England is one of the most efficient places in the world to produce quality beef and sheep meat because of our landscape and climate – and our producers are working hard to improve further and reduce our environmental footprint. We want to get this, and many other messages, out there more prominently to educate people, and Proud of Beef and Lamb is another tool to help us do that.

Hard copies of the booklet are available on request by calling 0870 242 1394 or emailing Alternatively, the booklet can be downloaded here.

Other key facts about red meat production its environmental performance, as well as those related to health and nutrition, and can be found here.

And if you want to help us spread the word on Twitter, use #proudofbeefandlamb as often as you can!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Beef and lamb worth shouting about

Taking centre stage and shouting about how great we are rarely top the list of our national traits, but when you’ve got something worth shouting about, you might as well shout about it on the global stage.
With the world’s eyes firmly fixed on London over the last few weeks, it presented the perfect opportunity to showcase Quality Standard beef & lamb to a global audience.

That’s precisely what EBLEX did last week at the Great Food Event in London, to promote food and drink exports to media professionals from around the world.

Organised by Defra and hosted by the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, journalists from across the world sampled some of the nation’s top produce, not least beef and lamb at the EBLEX stand.

Part of EBLEX’s wider work over the last couple of years has been adding Third Country markets to open up new trading routes. It has led to the opening up more than 50 new non-EU markets by providing the support services, funding and drive to keep things moving, creating more demand for beef and lamb exports to bolster returns for farmers.

And judging by how quickly guests were out of the blocks to head to the EBLEX stand, the appetite for high-quality beef and lamb was clear to see, with several faces becoming more familiar after visiting the stand repeatedly throughout the evening!

It’s been impossible to ignore the fact that London has universally won the world over in recent weeks. Good to see also that our produce continues to win new fans and long may that continue.

A selection of photos from the event can be viewed by visiting