Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Global approach to tackle FMD

The devastating effects of Foot and Mouth outbreaks in both 2001 and 2007 live long in the memory.

While we have enjoyed a five-year period of being FMD-free, we must guard against complacency. This point was notably stressed at last year’s EBLEX annual conference where significant disease outbreak was cited one of the biggest threats to the continued access to export markets for the beef and sheep sector.

With this very much in mind, it’s been welcoming to see the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) recently announcing they are joining forces to combat FMD on a global scale to bring the devastating livestock disease under control.

At the FAO/OIE global conference in Bangkok, where the announcement was made, the aim of the strategy was outlined – to decrease the impact of FMD worldwide by reducing the number of disease outbreaks in infected countries until they ultimately attain FMD-free status, as well as by maintaining the official FMD-free status of countries that are already ‘clean’.

The OIE’s Performance of Veterinary Services Pathway (PVS) will evaluate national veterinary services with the aim of bringing them into compliance with OIE quality standards. After all, not only do reliable veterinary services ensure the quality and safety of livestock production, but also protect the safety of food sources, trade and animal health.

FAO’s Progressive Control Pathway for Foot-and-Mouth Disease, the PCP-FMD, will guide countries through a series of incremental steps to better manage FMD risks, including active surveillance to establish what types of FMD virus strains are circulating in the country and neighbouring areas.

Our industry is all too aware of the potential health and economic implications of FMD.
It can cause high mortality in newborn and young animals, weight loss, reduced milk yields and lower fertility. According to the FAO/OIE the global annual cost of FMD, in terms of production losses and the need for prevention by vaccination, has been estimated to be approximately $5 billion.

The latest developments are certainly a step in the right direction to mitigate that potential impact. Further details of the global strategy on FMD can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

New Beef & Lamb All Party Parliamentary Group unveiled

It’s been said that information as a source of learning is only a benefit if organised, processed and made available to the right people.

Central to EBLEX’s activities is providing relevant information to producers to help their enterprises fulfil their potential. Our Better Returns Programme (BRP), for example, helps beef and sheep producers evaluate their businesses through direct communication. This is combined with practical, free events across England and a range of informative literature and other resources.

But it’s not just about providing practical information at the coalface of the industry. EBLEX has a strong track record in ensuring industry information – everything from environmental impact to economic input – reaches a wider stakeholder audience to stimulate debate on relevant issues.

Good to see then that last week saw the re-establishment of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Beef and Lamb. It will provide a forum for parliamentarians to discuss issues facing the English beef and lamb sector. Chaired by Neil Parish MP (Con, Tiverton & Honiton), the group will help ensure that parliamentarians are fully briefed by industry experts on the latest developments in the beef and lamb sector, including supply chains, exports, sustainability, health and nutrition.

The group has some strong credentials. The other officers are Rory Stewart MP (Con, Penrith & The Border), Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Andrew George MP (Lib Dem , St Ives) , Labour peer Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen, Shadow Food & Farming Minister Huw Irranca-Davies MP (Lab, Ogmore) , Mark Spencer MP (Con, Sherwood) and Roger Williams MP (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnorshire).

The APPG will be able to draw on the expertise of EBLEX as a knowledge house to ensure they are fully informed with the most up-to-date information and statistics relating to the beef and lamb sector. The group’s establishment is certainly a positive move and will no doubt help ensure that debate on industry-related topics at the highest level is well informed.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Water, water everywhere but Ministers urged to think!

England’s water resources under pressure? Seems hard to swallow as we’ve been basking in what appears to be the summer’s never-ending monsoon season.

Ministers must, however, take urgent action as these water resources come under increasing pressure from potential unsustainable-abstraction, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has warned.

Launching the committee’s report on The Water White Paper  report, Anne McIntosh MP (Con, Thirsk & Malton), EFRA Committee chairman, said the Government’s current plans - to reform the abstraction regime by the mid-to-late 2020s - will not take effect rapidly enough given that rivers are already running dry. She called for t reform of abstraction licenses to be brought forward to protect against the effect of severe droughts such as the one we saw earlier this year.

But what of agriculture and water use? The committee praised the acknowledgment of the importance of ensuring that the agricultural sector retains access to a reliable water supply. As the reforms go through, it recommended that the Environment Agency ‘maintains a constructive dialogue with farmers and food producers, recognising their key role in promoting self-sufficiency and food security’.

EBLEX has taken a proactive role in improving the sustainability of the English beef and sheep industry with the publication of its environmental roadmaps. Roadmap Part 2 'Testing the Water' quantifies where we are in terms of performance on water use and contribution to the landscape and biodiversity, and on energy use in the processing sector.

England is one of the most efficient places to produce quality beef and lamb, supported by the evidence published in Roadmap Part 2 'Testing the Water'. The report revealed it takes 67 litres of water, that could reasonably be used for other purposes, to produce 1kg of beef and 49 litres to produce 1kg of sheep meat.  This is significantly less than in other parts of the world.

Of course making better use of available water resources is an important ongoing issue. EBLEX is, however, taking a lead, examining what the industry is doing well and where improvements to efficiency on water use can be made. We will continue to monitor developments in this area.

Monday, 9 July 2012

A bright outlook despite the rain

Sheep farmers from across the UK congregated at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern last Wednesday (4 July) for Sheep 2012, the biggest event in the sheep industry calendar.

With continual rain turning the site into a mud bath, the weather would have been enough to dissuade many fair weather show-goers, however the farming community didn’t let it put them off and the show attracted a record turnout.

At the event we launched of our ‘Five Tonne Tup’ campaign, aimed at ensuring breeders produce rams that are fit for purpose and making commercial producers think about the performance they are getting from their rams. With our latest Business Pointers figures showing that the average producer is achieving 2.9 tonnes (liveweight) of lamb per year from each ram, and our calculations showing that producing a minimum of 5 tonnes per year is possible with the right management practices, there is definitely scope for the industry to improve.

Continuing with the breeding theme, we also demonstrated the new ultrasound scanner that our Signet Breeding Services team will soon be using to measure muscle and back fat in pedigree lambs, which you can see in action on the Farmers Weekly website.

Our vet’s corner also provided a talking point, with a quirky display including a selection of sheep’s feet illustrating various common foot problems, the infamous EBLEX rubber testicles to encourage sheep producers to MOT their rams, and some fluky livers providing the ‘yuck’ factor!

Added to this we also had specific areas dedicated to selecting lambs for slaughter and the work of our marketing team, as well as the Farm Shop Butchery Competition. It’s therefore no surprise that our stand was exceptionally busy all day, with producers coming to ask questions of our technical experts and find out more about our latest Better Returns Programme and marketing initiatives.

Away from the EBLEX stand, securing Government chief scientist John Beddington to open the event and share his thoughts on the industry’s sustainability in the big debate is a great illustration of the increasing prominence being given at the highest level to farming and food production.

Overall, it was really encouraging to be part of such an upbeat event and to feel that the industry has a really really future – roll on Sheep 2014!