Wednesday, 18 December 2013

2013 Beef & Lamb Review of the year

For an organisation that focuses on adding value to the beef and lamb sector we seem, rather unsurprisingly, to have spent an awful lot of time this year talking about horses.

The year had barely begun when ‘horsegate’ hit the headlines and rarely left them until the late spring and understandably so, with the EBLEX press office fielding more than 100 enquiries on the subject alone.

Earlier this month, the interim report of the Elliott Review set out the current weaknesses of supply chain networks in the UK, ahead of the final report to be published in spring 2014, and suggests measures that can be taken to address them. We will, of course, continue to support all efforts being made to ensure that serious incidents such as ‘horsegate’ don’t happen again. The important thing to remember is this was not a UK problem and all issues were with imported products with long supply chains. However, there are still lessons to be learned.

Ultimately, integrity of the supply chain is crucial for the industry and it must be prepared to let independent auditing take place to help protect consumer confidence on provenance and traceability and help it move forwards in 2014 and beyond.

The extreme weather also made the first few months of 2013 exceptionally difficult for English livestock farmers with a bout of heavy snow coinciding with the peak of the lambing season, causing sheep farmers to suffered serious losses. Consequently, the start of 2013 undoubtedly proved to be a challenge on many fronts.

‘Horsegate’ and extreme weather aside, there were plenty of positives in 2013, from ongoing export successes to research and development work to help drive on-farm efficiencies and help improve returns for producers. Our export team has again been incredibly busy at international trade shows throughout the year and helping Defra secure market access for beef and lamb.

Highlights included the re-opening of the Russian market and the rise in sheep meat exports to Hong Kong. An EBLEX-organised round table at Anuga with secretary of State Owen Paterson also focused on actions the Government could take to secure the opening of key markets for red meat exports. 

On another note, we continued to work towards helping the industry improve its environmental credentials, including the launch of the carbon calculator for sheep farmers in January and the research and development work behind helping beef and sheep farmers reduce their water footprint. EBLEX also contributed to the wider debate in the All Party Parliamentary Group for beef and Lamb’s inquiry into the carbon footprint of the beef cattle and sheep sector.

Working to help farmers become more efficient and deliver better returns from their enterprises is another cornerstone of EBLEX’s work and 2013 was again no exception. Work included a series of in-depth workshops such as those on profitable lamb production to help optimise flock output and the launch of Stocktake benchmarking report which highlighted the gap between average and top third herds and flocks, where enterprises are performing well and where improvements can be made.
Looking ahead to 2014, with the conclusion of the consultation on a proposed Halal assurance scheme in mid-January and a Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) for West Country Beef and Lamb set to be in place following a five-month consultation process, the New Year will start in similar busy fashion. With the AHDB Outlook Conference 2014 also taking place on February 12, it looks very much like we’ll be off to a flying start again in 2014.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Why red meat plays a crucial role in the diet

The virtues of sticking to a Mediterranean diet, while demonising red meat consumption, are often touted by those with an axe to grind against the beef and lamb sector. But is red meat really the villain of the piece? This week’s guest blogger Dr Emma Derbyshire, from the Meat Advisory Panel, takes a closer look at the debate and what a Mediterranean diet actually is.

The Mediterranean diet, super-foods, or a just a play on words? Recently, there appear to have been a lot of articles reporting that the key to good health appears to be to follow a Mediterranean diet. It’s also reported that the Mediterranean diet means eating less red meat. But is this a correct understanding of the diet? There are 18 countries on the Mediterranean coastline with differing diets, so I think a Mediterranean diet has become a phrase more than a diet. Here’s why:

Europe versus UK. Who eats more red meat? I don’t deny that the scientific literature on the diet has come to define the Mediterranean diet from Spain, Italy and Greece as high in olive oil, legumes, fruits and vegetables, fish and with a moderate consumption of meat and dairy products[1]. However, statistics also show that Mediterranean countries consume more red meat than the UK[2]. Greece, Spain and Italy are all famous for the meats they produce and eat as a staple. This meat intake is quite different to what is currently communicated as the Mediterranean diet.

Mediterranean diet – the real definition. I think there are problems with the current definition of the Mediterranean diet. Firstly, whilst studies into the Mediterranean diet have considered the dietary pattern generally, there are no substantial studies or meta-analysis research that has looked to define the quantities and regularity of food actually consumed. This is particularly the case with red meat intakes.

Secondly, confusion comes from the scientific definition. Scientists define the Mediterranean diet as a diet with low fatty acid levels.  Grains and vegetable oils, amongst others, provide oleic acid and alpha linoleic acid whilst fish provides a higher amount of omega-3’ acids to omega-6 acids. These acid intakes mean that there is more unsaturated than saturated fat in the diet and this is seen as the highest health benefit to the diet. However, whilst the fatty acid content of a diet is being profiled, again scientists are not actually looking at how much red meat is being eaten.

The fairest way to see a Mediterranean diet is to view it as a nutrient rich diet. This actually means a red meat rich diet as well. To suggest reducing the amount of red meat eaten is an incorrect definition of a Mediterranean diet.

[1] "Get your Meds: the Mediterranean Diet and Health", Ellen Gooch, Epikouria Magazine, Fall 2005
[2] Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, FAOSTAT, Food Balance sheet 2009.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

How to make the most of cooking with steak

Move over wine matching, our colleagues at Simply Beef and Lamb have been matching our steaks with traditional ales to explore the rich flavour profiles some of the different steaks you can find in supermarkets and butchers right now. From IPA to trappist Dubbel, we've asked ale expert Richard Fox and our in-house steak expert Hugh to marry a variety of tasty steaks to their hoppy counterparts. Guest blogger Zhenya Dewfield, EBLEX digital product manager, explains.

Now the trendiest new steak on the (butcher’s) block, the flat iron is gaining popularity with celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, favouring it for its great value and tenderness when cooked rare to medium-rare.

Flat Iron Steak

Hugh and Richard suggested pairing the flat iron with an American amber lager which has flavours of caramel and a little malt-sweetness to add complexity and balance.

The flat iron steak has a full flavour, while lean, the fat within the steak is marbled throughout and the beer is perfect for cutting through and refreshing the palate for the next mouthful. The maltiness and sweetness in the beer enables it to match and complement the flavour punch of the steak.

The classic rib-eye is a tender but well-fatted steak with a fantastic flavour. Our steak expert, Hugh, recommends cooking the rib-eye to medium to allow the fat to cook and release its wonderful flavour.
Rib-Eye Steak

Richard suggests pairing the rib-eye with a classic bottle-conditioned British IPA with fruit and caramel flavours. The effervescence of the beer will perform a perfect cutting and cleansing role, well suited to the flavoursome fats of the classic rib-eye.

The most lean and tender of all steaks, the fillet steak needs a beer that allows its subtleties to shine. Richard advises pairing is with a buttery and refreshing Czech Pilsner which is light with a firm, hoppy tang to refresh the palate and prepare it for the next bite.
Fillet Steak
The hanger steak is cut from a lean muscle group near the internal organs, producing a very beefy flavour in the meat. Hugh warns that, like the flat iron, the hanger steak is best cooked rare to medium as cooking for any longer causes this lean steak to become tough. Richard pairs the strong flavours with a full-bodied trappist Dubbel ale - bottle-conditioned, strong, with a rich complexity. Dark in colour, the Dubbel has notes of plums and dates with a smooth palate and accents of bitter chocolate - a perfect match for this juicy, full-flavoured cut of steak.

If you fancy trying any of these steaks with your favourite ale, most are widely available, or ask your local butcher for a guide.

What drinks do you like to pair with a good steak? Find Simply Beef and Lamb on twitter @simplybeeflamb or on to tell us about it.