Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Balancing the beef market for the greater good

There is no doubt that the English beef sector has taken great strides from where we were just three or four years ago.  Back in 2009, EBLEX produced a report entitled In The Balance? which took a long, hard look at our industry and highlighted some stark realities. It urged a more strategic approach and global outlook for a sector that had seen a 27 per cent decline in the breeding herd between 1990 and 2007, with cattle prices lower in real terms than they were nearly 20 years earlier.

“The short-termism of some key players in the beef supply chain, combined with the apparent lack of awareness on the part of policy-makers and the public of the steady attrition of the beef industry, means that we are sleep-walking towards the irretrievable decline of a critical part of our farming industry,” said EBLEX chairman John Cross at the time. Strong words indeed but the industry did seem to react and galvanise itself. We hope the report served to stimulate debate and nudge things in the right direction.

So where are we now? A completely different place – and yet significant challenges remain. Doubts remain about the ability of the supply chain to continue to deliver as we sit amid the gathering storm of rapidly growing global demand for a product that is in decreasing supply. And approaches to securing the supply chain need to move with the times.

So EBLEX this week published Balancing the Market, an updated In The Balance? if you like, looking at how we have moved on but highlighting that, as a result, the sector now had a different dynamic that needed a shift in approach and attitudes from all links in the supply chain.

 “We need an era of greater co-operation to tackle shared challenges. Long-established working practices of [retailers] simply looking to buy more cheaply from alternative markets if domestic product becomes scarce or is considered too expensive are unlikely to be sustainable as global supply continues to tighten,” says John this time.

It points to the fact we are now – again – a major player on the global meat trading scene and this brings huge opportunities for our producers and processors in terms of improved prices and returns – but also exposes us to additional risks. It is not clear if all those involved in the industry are quite clear on how the game has changed. A greater spirit of understanding, if not co-operation, will help us all in the long run.

You can read the full report by clicking here and the press release here.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Gearing up for Beef Expo 2012

Beef Expo 2012 is a major event in the industry calendar and this year EBLEX is doing more than ever, covering all aspects of the supply chain from conception to consumption.

We’re currently gearing up to play a big role at the event which this year takes place at the Three Counties Showground, in Malvern, on May 24th.

With beef from the dairy herd playing an increasing role in UK beef production, there will be an area dedicated to that with loads of information and examples of production systems. On the main EBLEX stand our expert team will be covering a variety of issues including breeding, nutrient management and our new costings system (StockTake). StockTake will publish enterprise costings data on an annual basis. Producers will be able to make use of an online template and benchmarking programme, which will allow them to compare costs and herd performance with national EBLEX data for a number of different beef production systems.

Featuring five key management areas which can influence a beef enterprise bottom line, herd health will come under the spotlight with a vet on hand to answer questions about parasite treatments, liver fluke control, cow fertility and Bull MOTs. Our experts will also be available to help producers understand the key EBVs to use when making bull purchases and signpost online sources for bull EBV information.

The high-impact ‘EBLEX Cool Wall’ provides producers with a very visual description of the cattle carcases the market is looking for. Our experts will help producers relate this back to the live animal they are producing and looking to select at the optimum time for slaughter. Minimising environmental impact and increasing efficiency will come under the spotlight with a demonstration of slurry application rates and a talk about making a nutrient management plan.

The Farm Shop Beef Butchery competition, which seems to go from strength to strength, will again feature at this year’s event, while Denise, our development chef, will demonstrate some fantastic beef recipes every hour, starting at 10.30am. Not only can you see how it is done, you can also sample the dishes if you’re quick enough, and then take home the free recipe booklets that are being distributed by the Ladies in Beef. It promises to be a busy day and a great event.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Halal hits the headlines

Halal and Kosher slaughter has been back in the news recently.

It’s encouraging to see that the issue is reaching the wider public audience. The crucial element, as ever, is that the information in the public domain is accurate to help stimulate balanced, rather than inflammatory debate.

In the last few weeks, Nicolas Sarkozy made Halal meat labelling an issue in the French election which he then lost, while closer to home, Conservative MP Philip Davies’ proposed bill under the 10-minute rule for the compulsory labelling of Halal and Kosher meat was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons. Questions were also raised in the Commons relating to the extent to which Halal products are sold without being labelled in supermarkets, restaurants and cafes. Elsewhere, press and TV coverage has brought the labelling issue to a wider public audience.

EBLEX has a track record of working closely with the Halal sector, including publishing a specialist report into the Halal meat market and establishing the Halal Steering Group. More recently, work has included the launch of two new beef and lamb carcase posters for butchers selling Halal meat to display in their shops (Further information on these is available by visiting

Halal and Kosher slaughter is an emotive subject and inevitably potentially inflammatory arguments are never far away. The important point to consider remains that ultimately, slaughtering is about animal welfare, not religion. Currently, the humane slaughter of cattle and sheep is governed by EU law and enforced in every abattoir in England by the Food Standards Agency under The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995. EU legislation permits member states to allow an exemption in the case of slaughter of animals without prior stunning for religious reasons and this includes non-stun Halal. If an exemption is made for slaughter by religious method, it falls outside the normal guidelines, as is the case with non-stun Halal slaughter.

The EU is currently looking at the issue of labelling and EBLEX will continue to monitor the situation and inform the industry of any new directives that come through from Europe. To look at the UK in isolation in the meantime, in terms of any additional labelling regulations, would take time and money which may well then prove to be wasted once superseded by any new EU regulation.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Outlook offers glimmers of sunshine for UK agriculture

On Wednesday, almost 200 representatives of the beef, sheep, pig and dairy supply chains come together to hear expert opinion on the future prospects for these sectors at the 2012 Outlook Conference in Westminster, organised by AHDB’s market intelligence team.

First to present was Allan Wilkinson, HSBC’s head of agriculture, speaking about the wider economic climate. It will come as no surprise, in the week in which it was announced that the UK had re-entered recession, that it wasn’t great news, with talk of debt-burdened consumers and the corporate sector lacking confidence. However, the cloud did have a silver lining, as he was positive about the opportunities for agriculture particularly in terms of the export market, and praised UK farmers for being in good shape and having done plenty to modernise.

Allan was followed by Giles Quick of Kantar Worldpanel, who focussed on the consumer and retailer perspective. He opened with some encouraging statistics about the UK grocery market: 84.3% of households buy red meat and people consume it at an average of 200 times a year, making it a fundamental (and growing) part of the UK grocery trade.

However, he went on to paint a more subdued picture of the consumer position, saying that confidence is at a very low ebb – the bounceback after the last recession wasn't strong and has fallen again with the latest economic news. It’s not all bad news though, people stay in more in times of economic uncertainty, offering a great opportunity for meal deals, and they’re also more likely to be looking out for ‘number one’, which translates into a desire to buy British and buy local.

Giles ended his presentation with some rousing words for the audience: “You are incredibly strong and powerful, you are the cornerstone of British cuisine. Without you we are eating pot noodles!”

Finishing off the main session was AHDB director of market intelligence, Ken Boyns, who discussed the impact of commodity prices and the challenge of continuing to increase supply to feed the growing population – 40 years ago we had the equivalent of two football pitches of land to produce food for each person, today that has been reduced to only one. He also stressed the importance of technology and how our UK farmers must be able to embrace this to avoid being put at a competitive disadvantage.

In conclusion, much like the weather we’ve been enjoying recently, the outlook was very much a mixed bag, with some glimmers of sunshine making a pleasant change from the economic gloom.

It was really pleasing to see so many different parties represented at the event and working together towards one common goal – a sustainable future for the livestock and dairy sectors.

Anyone who missed the event and would like to see the presentations can download them here.