Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Red meat’s vital economic role


It’s confirmed what we’ve known all along the English red meat industry is crucial to the economy making a swift recovery.

The Real Value of English Red Meat Economic Analysis revealed a thriving English red meat industry makes a net contribution of £1.67 billion to the economy. Other significant findings included the English economy would lose £906 million in contributions to employment alone if the red meat sector became unsustainable.

Of the 96,000 people currently directly employed by the industry, 91,000 in rural areas, just over 20 per cent (20,256) would face unemployment if the English red meat sector was to cease. The demand created by farming in allied industries currently helps support an additional 772,998 jobs.

It certainly makes for interesting reading, especially in the wake of Chancellor’s recent Budget statement that we should not be shy about identifying our successful industries. Clearly, the red meat industry falls into this category and has an important role to play.

The report was produced by Matrix Evidence, which provides analysis for policy and management through operational research, economic appraisals and public policy evaluations, commissioned by ourselves and our BPEX sister division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). It is the first analysis of its kind to look at the net contribution of the industry, painting the most realistic possible picture of the value the sector brings to the economy. A draft of the report was presented to Farming Minister Jim Paice and a select group of MPs and Peers in February.

Clearly, the figures speak for themselves and with economic growth and job creation high on the agenda, a thriving English red meat sector’s contribution, in terms of value added to the economy and contribution to employment levels, is clear. It is unfortunate that the sector is too often the subject of negative reports, rather than giving equal prominence to its role as a positive force for the country.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Keep calm and carry on

It bore a striking resemblance to a group of over-excited children who’d been let loose in a sweet factory.

Murmurings of ‘the US is looking at lifting restrictions on importing beef’, quickly reached a fever pitch of anticipation among some quarters in the industry about the potential of Uncle Sam re-opening its doors to beef imports from the UK.

On the face of it the excitement was understandable as reports circulated about the publication of a draft regulation in Washington, with the US proposing bringing its rules on the import of bovine products in line with international criteria. If approved, it would remove the ban on EU beef imports imposed in 1997 in the wake of the BSE crisis.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is recommending the adoption of the criteria the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) uses to identify a country’s BSE risk status. It has been reported that the USDA has noted the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands meet all other health requirements and could export beef to the US sooner than other EU members if the ban is lifted.

Exciting news but we must maintain some perspective on the issue. We’ve been aware of the US intention to review this for some time. The agreement to the final tranche of High Quality Beef access is linked to the US lifting sanctions on a range of products. It was never contingent upon a move on lifting the ruminant import ban. The crucial point to remember is that this is a piece of draft legislation based on a USDA recommendation which will now receive consideration by the legislature. There is no lifting of the ban as such at this stage although there are clear indications that a positive outcome is likely.

However, and without wishing to rain on everyone’s parade, we never did any significant trade with the US prior to BSE and it’s unlikely we will do anything substantial if sanctions are lifted. There may well be some high value meat export opportunities but nothing significant in terms of volume. That said, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Many of our potential trading partners take their lead from the US and lifting restrictions in the US will certainly do no harm to our negotiations elsewhere, not least the Far East. That’s where the real value may lie.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Red meat and mortality risk study causes media storm

After confidently reporting in last week’s blog that the red meat industry is beginning to enjoy more balanced coverage in the media, we were yesterday faced with a barrage of sensational headlines about a new study claiming a definite link between red meat consumption and an increased mortality rate. Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths was the headline on the Telegraph’s front page, while the Sun settled for Red meat 'kills'. A fine example of Sod’s Law in action!

The study, carried out in the US, where meat consumption is significantly higher – 122.79kg compared with 85.51kg per capita in the UK (FAO, 2007) - looked at associations between high intakes of red meat and the risk of mortality and found a positive association between the two. However, the fact that the study was observational rather than controlled (ie. the researchers observed the effects of red meat consumption on a sample of the population rather than controlling the behaviour of the group) means that using the results to determine cause and effect is rather a questionable scientific method. The increased risk therefore cannot be clearly attributed to red meat.

Added to that, the authors of the study themselves state that those with a higher red meat intake were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers, to drink alcohol, to have a higher total energy intake and a higher body mass index. All of these are widely acknowledged to be higher risk factors when looking at an increased mortality rate.

What is more concerning than the study itself is the continued willingness of the media to publish over-simplistic, misleading stories without any real understanding of the statistics involved, and with a sensational headline not borne out by the content of the story. This story has definitely led to the propagation of some dubious statistics which at best are impenetrable by the general public, and at worst should be relegated to the league of ‘zombie statistics’, as defined in a previous blog.

Only days after the industry had been riled by Countryfile’s animal welfare report, which compared the Red Tractor unfavourably to other labelling schemes, and the Panorama investigation into agricultural subsidies and non-active farmers, this is a further blow that our food producers just don’t need.

The reality is that lean red meat is extremely nutritious and can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet, advice which is reinforced by the Government’s official Eatwell plate.

For more information visit the meat and health website.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Image of red meat back in balance

The red meat industry has, for a number of years, had to put up with a lot of criticism, often unfairly. While, as in most sectors, there are areas where we can do better or improve performance and efficiency, we are an easy target for many with an agenda or who are simply ill-informed. This can be criticism on environmental performance, the health value of red meat in the diet or its animal welfare issues.

This can be galling in the trade press but can be even more frustrating in the consumer arena when the whole picture is not fully painted. The person on the street may just take what they have read at face value as they have no intrinsic knowledge of the subject, unlike someone reading an article in trade media, and this may change their behaviour. This is an area that EBLEX, in conjunction with our BPEX colleagues in the pig sector, and other related organisations like HCC in Wales and QMS in Scotland, are all working to address.
Too often unbalanced articles or comments appear in the media. We have concentrated resources and expertise over the last 12 months in ensuring commentators and influencers are better informed on the benefits of red meat. And this work is now demonstrating real returns. Analysing coverage over the 18 months since the meat and health campaign was launched, predominantly negative media have been turned to more positive items in print and broadcast.

Previously, an audit of press coverage showed five negatives to every one positive story on red meat in England. Now. We are looking at 5.5 positive to every 3.5 negative.

The work to achieve this has included speaking to more than 90 key opinion forming journalists and scientists, supporting the Meat Advisory Panel – a panel of experts keen on promoting the more positive aspects of red meat – compilation of a series of factsheets on common issues like red meat and obesity, red meat and heart disease, and red meat and cancer, setting out the real facts on these issues, and revamping the website.

The simple fact is that red meat is a nutritious source of many vitamins and minerals and can play an important part in a healthy diet. There will always be those with an agenda who simply want to put people off eating meat for whatever reason, but at least we are seeing more balanced reporting of the facts rather than skewed view with claims simply being taken at face value.