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.