Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Beef and Lamb Matters in Brussels – Europe’s impact on the industry

For 40 years decisions taken in Brussels have had a decisive impact on the organisation and economy of UK agriculture. From the moment the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, this has become increasingly clear.

As a result, about 25 years ago, the old Meat and Livestock Commission (now EBLEX and BPEX) made the decision to open an office in Brussels, to closely follow the definition and implementation of new EU agricultural policies.

The aim? From the very beginning, the Brussels office has ensured that the relevant sectors are well informed on issues and developments which have an impact on their operating environment. Equally important has been its role in times of crisis, such as BSE and FMD, when the office provided a precious link of information and communication between the EU institutions and the industry.

Over the years, with the EU becoming more and more focused on consumer orientated legislation and environmental policies, the office has also increased its level of engagement in animal welfare, sanitary and sustainability issues.

The Brussels team’s role has evolved to also contribute to an informed debate on cross-sector matters, such as EU research, agricultural promotion and CAP reform. This move reflects not only the wider role of AHDB but also the increasing trend towards a horizontal approach in EU policy and legislation.

On a daily basis, the small (but very efficient!) team monitors information on a wide range of EU topics, ranging from EU consumers’ opinions on meat, to updates on ongoing free-trade agreement negotiations, origin labelling, TSE roadmap, emerging new diseases or animal health packages. It follows various EU meetings such as EP, COMAGRI and COMENVI meetings, Agriculture and Environment Councils and also attends various conferences and workshops on specific issues such as trade and animal welfare.

The team holds formal and informal meetings with EU decision makers. This information is then analysed and communicated to EBLEX through different ways - briefing notes on EU regulations, daily and monthly report reports, EU news section on EBLEX website and social media platforms.

Our expertise in Brussels means we can reliably help to inform the EU debate, particularly by highlighting the potential impact of changes in policy and technical legislation on the sectors we represent. As such, the Brussels office provides EBLEX with an effective network of top European civil servants but also key EU food and farming organisations, as well as Brussels-based print and broadcast media.

Ultimately, by optimising the flow of communication to and from the EU, the Brussels office is supporting beef and lamb producers to better anticipate future policy trends and regulatory changes and thus more smoothly adapt to the new challenges faced by EU agriculture. It is an important role and one which we will continue to develop to ensure our producers are kept fully informed about key industry issues as new challenges arise.

Kathy Roussel
Head of Brussels Office

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Emissions from livestock: inquiry highlights flaws in measurement

‘Eat less red meat to save the planet’ is a mantra our industry faces frequently from those parking responsibility for climate change almost entirely at the hooves of beef cattle and sheep.

While it is accepted that methane is an inevitable by-product of grazing ruminants and that the carbon footprint of the beef and lamb sector is an important issue, the industry’s efforts to mitigate this and highlight the positives that grazing livestock can bring to their respective landscapes are often overlooked by its critics. Indeed, our work in these areas has been showcased in our environmental roadmaps – Change in the air, Testing the water and Down to earth, as well as our Landscapes without Livestock report.

The bottom line is that the real level of emissions from the UK livestock sector may be significantly lower than currently reported if offsetting factors, such as the benefits of biodiversity and managing the landscape, are factored in. This is common practice in other sectors, why not ours? Land Rover’s Carbon Offset Programme is one such example whereby for a small fee, as part of the cost of a new Range Rover, money goes directly to Climate Care to offset the greenhouse gases connected with manufacture of the vehicle.

This week a report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb highlighted the complexity of the issue, not least the lack of clarity and consistency in relation to measuring the environmental impact of beef and sheep farming.

Published after a four-month inquiry, which included written and oral evidence submissions from EBLEX, Defra, other industry stakeholders and environmental representatives, the report concluded that more robust scientific data and a standard model to measure carbon sequestration is needed to help the industry meet the challenges of sustainable food production and reducing its environmental impact.

Importantly, the inquiry did acknowledge the good work already being undertaken by the industry to address its environmental impact. It also highlighted the positive environmental benefits of grazing livestock such as landscape management and protecting biodiversity can bring. Additionally, it made the important point that while debate around the subject often centres around carbon footprint, understanding of what makes up the carbon footprint of grazing livestock is alarmingly shallow.

Citing a lack of consensus on how to measure livestock emissions, the report noted that even debate among EU member states is not based on comparable data. And with variations from different production systems impacting on the amount of methane emitted from ruminants, it rightly points out that there is no ‘one size fits all’ data set. Similarly, the issue of carbon sequestration is highlighted – it is included in French carbon footprinting assessments, but not in British ones, putting British producers, the report asserts, at a distinct disadvantage when carrying out like for like comparisons.

Consistency is everything and, as is pointed out, we are not currently able to quantify the carbon footprint of red meat or other food products. As such, without robust scientific grounding the ‘eat less red meat to save the planet’ argument simply doesn’t stack up in terms of credibility.

Clearly, more work is required to acquire more scientific data and agree a consistent sequestration model which can be applied internationally to enable policymakers to hold a more informed debate on sustainable food production. Hopefully the APPG inquiry and subsequent report will stimulate further debate on this important issue and generate progress as we move forwards.

All reports can be found via the corporate publications page of our website by clicking here.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Hong Kong event showcases UK meat products

Last week saw thousands of visitors attend the largest food and hospitality trade show in the Asia-Pacific region, which provided the ideal platform for the biggest ever contingent of UK meat firms to showcase their products.

EBLEX, BPEX and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) were joined at HOFEX in Hong Kong by 18 companies that deal in beef, lamb and pork to highlight what the UK has to offer and attend a reception at the British Consulate.

During the event, there was a visit from both the Consul General Caroline Wilson and Barbara Woodward, Director General, Economic and Consular at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

At a reception held at the end of the first day, the two VIP guests stressed the importance of events like this to help develop exports from the UK. Their views were echoed by EBLEX and BPEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier, who said the show attracts buyers from across Asia and that Hong Kong is a very important trading centre which we wish to develop further.

Hong Kong is a very important market for Britain – in 2011, UK export of goods there were valued at £5.062 billion, a 20.5 per cent increase on the previous year. It was the UK’s 13th largest export market in 2011, representing 1.7 per cent of total UK exports. It is also the UK’s third largest export market in Asia Pacific, behind Mainland China and India. Around 4.2 per cent of UK exports to Hong Kong are re-exported to Mainland China. Hong Kong is the UK’s 14th largest import market, valued at £7.326 billion. UK imports from Hong Kong represent 1.8 per cent of total imports and 8.6 per cent of imports from Asia Pacific.

Hong Kong is also extremely wealthy, so while there is scope for exporting products such as offal, there is the potential for a great deal of growth in premium products. The stand at HOFEX covered both ends of the market with everything from top quality beef and lamb to sausages, jerky and pork scratchings.

Opportunities for exports to the Far East remain incredibly attractive and events like HOFEX provide the ideal platform for us to shine the spotlight on what we can deliver. EBLEX continues to work towards full market access in the region and the huge potential returns it offers English beef and lamb producers.

EBLEX & BPEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier with Barbara Woodward, Director General, Economic and Consular at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The reception at HOFEX

EBLEX & BPEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier with Consul General, Caroline Wilson (left) and Barbara Woodward, Director General, Economic and Consular at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (right)

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Improving skills in the uplands

Hill farming makes a vital contribution to livestock production in England, however those who farm in upland areas face a unique set of challenges.

The majority of England’s upland agricultural land is defined as being part of the Less Favoured Area (LFA)[1] due to its poor climate, soils, and terrain, which result in higher production and transport costs as well as reduced yields and productivity. The LFA accounts for 17 per cent of the total farmed area in England (1.55 million hectares)[1] and, crucially, is home to 30 per cent of England’s beef cattle and 44 per cent of breeding sheep[1]. Aside from this important contribution to agriculture, upland farmers also play an essential role in maintaining the distinctive landscapes they manage.  

The need to create a sustainable future for the English uplands has risen up the agricultural agenda in recent years and was the subject of a Defra policy review in 2011. That, in turn, was the catalyst for a recently-launched campaign aimed at delivering technical and business skills to those involved in managing the unique upland landscapes.

Managed by ADAS and delivered in part by EBLEX, the 15-month project kicked off in January and targets those working in agriculture and forestry in the uplands. The programme is the result of a successful bid by ADAS under the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) Skills and Knowledge Transfer Framework, which is jointly funded by Defra and the European Union.

As one of the delivery partners for the project, EBLEX is running a range of upland beef and sheep production events, which offer a great opportunity for farmers to learn from their peers and identify practical solutions to the challenges they face. With environmental constraints often a particular barrier to productivity for hill farmers, the events will give those involved an insight into how a balance can be achieved between the environment and productive agriculture.

A key part of the project involves establishing focus farms across the uplands of northern England. Each of these farms will take part in investigation and trial work into specific elements of upland farming, covering everything from the use of alternative forages to fill feed gaps, to investigating worm resistance in sheep, to the use of artificial insemination in upland suckler herds to help tighten calving patterns. The focus farms will host a number of meetings over the next year, which will demonstrate best farming practice and allow them to share their experiences of managing an upland farm business.

In addition to the focus farms meetings, there will be a number of demonstration events over the course of a project, plus a range of workshops designed to give farmers a more in-depth understanding of a specific subject area. The final element of the programme involves a series of study tours to visit upland farming and research organisations in other countries, as well as farm exchange visits across the UK to look at different upland farming practices.

Hopefully initiatives such as this will go some way to equipping hill farmers with the skills to meet the challenges they face.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

New beef and lamb cuts give consumers something new

The Tower of London was an appropriate setting to showcase innovative beef and lamb cuts to an audience of farming and supply chain journalists. The Steak Bar and Chop House are initiatives from the EBLEX trade marketing team to help butchers, other retailers and some food service outlets make the most from the beef and lamb carcases they buy. The project helps balance the carcase, helping boost profits, while offering consumers something different at perhaps a more conservative cost to some other more familiar cuts in these times of thrift.

Thinking of novel ways to both market quality standard beef and lamb to consumers and interest retailers in really pushing the products is something to which EBLEX devotes significant resources. With more than 60,000 beef and sheep farmers around England, individually they would not be able to invest in this type of activity. For their part, retailers have many products to sell so focusing purely on the ones we want them to out of the goodness of their hearts is an unlikely scenario. Therefore, creating innovative ways to help sell fresh, farm assured beef and lamb to consumers is at the core of our trade marketing work.

So last week’s event was an unveiling of the Crown Jewels of the new campaign, hence the audience of trade journalists who can help spread the word and the setting of the Tower of London. It certainly proved a popular choice with a full room of guests who listened to EBLEX representatives, as well as chairman of the National Q Guild of Butcher Brindon Addy and Morrisons’ meat and fish project manager Paul Robinson, outline why they felt the product development project was a winner.

It loosely falls under the umbrella themes Cook-In, for the retail sector, and Eat Out, for the foodservice sector. In total there are five new ranges, which also include Gourmet Burger, The Carvery and Discover Lamb, which bring new, added value Quality Standard Mark products to market, improving carcase utilisation and enhancing profit potential throughout the supply chain.

Steak Bar, which was first introduced to the retail sector last year, is being relaunched with the addition of new beef and lamb steaks. The range includes traditional steak cuts such as the rib-eye which has been highly trimmed, as well as a number of quality, added value alternatives such as the flat iron, bistro rump and centre cut which are new to the market. These modern, affordable steaks are available to both the retail and foodservice markets and supported with a host of marketing collateral to help drive sales.
The strategy is a long term initiative. The cuts have been extensively tested among chefs, catering butchers and consumers, as well as there being scientific tests carried out by an independent food research company, which has shown that the steaks will work well in the foodservice sector, adding differentiation on menus and bringing additional profit opportunities. The findings are presented in a new book, ‘Excellence in Steak’, which will help caterers determine which cuts will add most value to their menus. For example, the spatchcock fillet, flat iron and Denver were the highest scoring steaks with consumers based on the ‘overall liking.’
Similarly, the Chop House range has been developed with the steak lover in mind. The new range of bone-in beef, lamb and veal steaks, offering enhanced flavour and succulence, will complement existing barbecue and grill product ranges. After first appearing in the foodservice sector, the cuts, such as T-Bone Steak (beef) and Three Bone Rack (lamb), are now becoming more prominent in retail outlets. Like Steak Bar, the Chop House cuts offer substantial profit opportunities.
So while last week’s launch event was a focus of activity, this new product development work will be seen in butchers, supermarkets and on some menus for some time, ultimately creating demand for quality assured beef and lamb, supporting the market prices for producers, and clearly demonstrating how EBLEX is adding value to the sector.