Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Dairy beef success story

It was heartening to see BBC Countryfile telling such a positive story about UK veal production in Sunday's programme. Veal has in fact been enjoying something of a media renaissance in recent months. Barely a week goes by without the EBLEX press office getting a call from a journalist wanting more information about veal sales trends and the potential of the market.

It’s hard not to feel like a pessimistic naysayer when explaining yet again that, despite certain encouraging signs, the veal market in this country remains very small with just 0.4% of GB households buying veal in the last year, and total sales reaching 125 tonnes. (To put this in perspective, the total market for beef and veal was 269,291 tonnes for the same period.)

In the UK, the industry has come a long way since veal crates were banned in 1990, but, as the Countryfile voxpops proved, many consumers remain unaware of these changes. While the power of a programme such as Countryfile (which regularly attracts six million viewers) in influencing the public should not be underestimated, it would require a massive sea change in popular opinion for veal to become a staple of British consumers’ shopping baskets. It is therefore likely that, in this country at least, veal will continue to be a niche market product.

There is, however, another option for dairy bull calves which has proved to be one of the industry’s true success stories, and which is all too often overlooked by the media. The majority of dairy bull calves (over 75% in 2010 according to official estimates) are already being reared for beef and in 2010 57% of the beef produced in the UK came from the dairy herd, a fact which would probably take most consumers by surprise.

Dairy bull calves are a necessary by-product of dairy production, and every farmer wants their animals to go on to live a useful life, therefore it’s not surprising that the industry has already come up with a solution of its own to this sensitive problem.

The media should be applauded for tackling the subject of veal head on, but without putting it in the context of the dairy beef market there is a risk that the public could be misled.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Exports: to the Eurozone and beyond

Beef and sheep producers enjoyed some well-deserved good cheer in 2011, as livestock prices reached unprecedented levels, partly as a result of strong export sales. The indications are that the outlook for the industry is also positive and we can be optimistic about this situation continuing throughout 2012 and beyond.

However, the situation in the Eurozone continues to concern many in the industry, with Farmers Weekly (Challenges of a weaker Euro for UK agriculture, 13/01/12) stating that beef and lamb producers are having to ‘battle for business’ as a result of a weaker and more volatile Euro.

It’s true that we cannot afford to ignore what is going on in the Eurozone economy – this is still the main destination for our beef and lamb exports, therefore reduced consumer demand in these countries would undoubtedly have a negative effect on trade. The fact is that one in five of our lambs ends up on a French dinner plate and our closest neighbours are also our most important overseas customers.

Fluctuations in the Euro exchange rate will undoubtedly affect the price we receive for our product - but claims that a weak Euro could make our exports to the Eurozone unsustainable are failing to take into account the bigger picture. Back in August, we published a blog post addressing this issue (Currency fluctuations should not affect export confidence), and the points made in this blog still stand.

Currently, exports to the Eurozone remain healthy. In addition, a large number of non-EU markets have opened up to UK beef and lamb since 2010, indeed in January-October 2011 we saw a 74% increase in sheepmeat exports to non-EU destinations, and a 67% increase in beef exports. Work continues to develop further new non-EU markets, including priority countries such as Russia and China – although the latter certainly is still likely to be a few years off.

Meat exports are increasingly global in their nature and it is therefore important not to underestimate the effect of worldwide supply and demand. With global supplies remaining tight and demand increasing, it is very likely that demand for our product will remain robust for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Starting 2012 on the front foot

It’s been encouraging to see a positive start for the industry in 2012, not least with keynote speeches from Jim Paice and Caroline Spelman at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Citing the importance of the global food market, Mr Paice stressed the need to cultivate new markets for products where we are most competitive. With the country’s food and drink exports growing by 11 per cent to £16 billion last year, the role of exports is abundantly clear. For example, last year saw beef exports rise by 36 per cent and a dedicated push on exports of beef, lamb and fifth quarter products will continue throughout 2012, with further trade missions planned, as well as attendance at key events.

The Government’s Agri-food and Drink Exports Action Plan – also touched on by Mrs Spelman at the Oxford conference – will have an important role to play in this ongoing success, particularly in putting the building blocks in place to help companies succeed overseas. Central to this is the need to simplify the paperwork involved in exports. While it’s never a simple process, backing from the highest level will go a long way to helping us open new markets, notably in the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China. As we’ve said before, it won’t happen overnight but the work put in now will undoubtedly pay dividends as the industry moves forwards.

Encouraging also to hear Mr Paice’s calls for the creation of a professional body for farming with AHDB the leading contender to take the role on in a technical and business capacity. It was a ringing endorsement of the organisation and its divisions like EBLEX, acknowledging both the work done on the ground with producers and behind the scenes in developing new trade opportunities. Long may that continue to ensure the industry’s interests and potential is realised.

  • Mr Paice’s speech can be viewed by clicking here.
  • Mrs Spelman’s speech can be viewed by clicking here.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Little festive respite from meat reduction calls

It was the season to be jolly, however for Professor Tim Lang, the holiday traditionally linked with over-indulgence provided the perfect opportunity to call for consumers to dramatically reduce their meat consumption.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph on 30 December, the professor of food policy at London’s City University is quoted as saying that meat consumption is “out of control” and suggesting “we should go back to ancient traditions whereby meat was considered a treat and eaten only on feast days, such as Christmas”.

Using the argument that eating too much meat can cause obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, Professor Lang advocates that we should “eat meat once a week and have really good, grass-fed meat”.

The article then goes on to state that “producing meat is harmful for the environment as growing animals requires energy and water, and cows produce the greenhouse gas methane”.

By the time they reach this point in the article, it’s likely that most people involved in the meat industry will have either given up reading or will be swearing at their newspaper. This two-pronged attack using commonly held misconceptions regarding obesity and climate change as reasons to cut down on meat consumption has become all too familiar to an industry which often feels like its being used as a scapegoat.

It is very disappointing that we continue to encounter these misconceptions despite evidence to the contrary, but what is even more disappointing is the willingness of the media to trot out lines about the negative effects of red meat without stopping to consider their accuracy.

The reality is that lean red meat is extremely nutritious and can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet – for more information have a look at our red meat and health factsheets. In terms of meat production and climate change, all food production has an environmental cost and making simplistic statements about a complex issue is entirely unhelpful. The facts about livestock and climate change are summarised on our website.

At the beginning of 2012, it would be good to believe that this could be the year when the industry hits back. EBLEX and other similar organisations can provide the ammunition, but we can all play a part in correcting people’s negative preconceptions about meat. The meat and livestock sectors bring tremendous benefits to this country, however these are all too often overlooked as a result of over-simplistic headlines and media friendly soundbites.