Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Why we need beef and sheep farmers to feed the nation

It seems that never a month goes by without the red meat industry facing headline-grabbing negative challenges that demonise it.

In the face of such negativity, it’s easy to see how consumers can draw ill-informed conclusions about red meat consumption. A survey by the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) has worryingly revealed misconceptions about meat are leaving Britons at risk of health problems.

The survey not only highlighted lack of understanding about red meat and its role in consumer diets, but also revealed a lack of consumer awareness as to which meats were actually classified as red meat. For example, one in five, or 22 per cent of respondents for example, didn’t realise lamb is red meat.

Equally concerning was the fact that people routinely underestimate the importance of red meat in delivering essential nutrients, such as iron and vitamin D. Low levels of both care common within UK population groups in the UK and can lead to a range of health-related problems. Only eight per cent of women in the study were aware of their greater need for dietary iron.

Just 15 per cent of respondents to the MAP survey correctly rated red meat as a superior source of iron than spinach. Red meat is one of the best sources of easily absorbed iron and is particularly important for women. Low iron levels can lead to a host of niggling health problems including tiredness, poor concentration, headaches, feeling short of breath, irritability and dizziness.

According to MAP, there is growing evidence that vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining the immune system.

So, what’s the answer? Our climate means that we often can’t make enough vitamin D from sunshine and many of us have sub-optimal levels, so it is important that we get the most from natural food sources such as red meat.

Globally, the UK is one of the most efficient places to produce beef and lamb. We have a ready-made red meat food source on the doorstep, which is why beef and sheep farming is so important and should continue to be. The win, win, solution for a healthy balanced diet while supporting effort that farmers put in to produce such high-quality products.

EBLEX will continue to support research into the role of red meat in a healthy, balanced diet, most recently the production of the Mind the Knowledge Gap study.

Coupled with its continued programme of working with farmers at source to drive efficiencies and help improved performance of their enterprises and programme of educating consumers about the health benefits of red meat, EBLEX will continue to champion beef and lamb’s crucial role in feeding the nation.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Helping farmers minimise losses to maximise returns

Working with beef and sheep farmers to help them fulfil the potential of their respective enterprises is a key part of EBLEX’s work. Meat inspection has a role to play in influencing margins and the question was raised and debated at our recently-held Processor Conference.

While the conference covered a number of topics, from meat quality to new cuts development, the issue of meat inspection touched on an area where we have undertaken a great deal of work to help minimise losses throughout the supply chain and help farmers maximise returns.

What can farmers do as part of the supply chain to help ensure they reap the rewards of their labour? Concentrating on efficient animal growth, meeting target carcase specifications and minimising the losses of saleable meat and offal are undoubtedly key.

Total carcase rejections can lead to possible non-payment to producers.  Therefore, good stock husbandry, including feeding and health management to maximise quantities of saleable meat, will inevitably pay dividends.

Among the areas to look at include the control of Liver Fluke, parasite infections in sheep and cattle spread by dogs and foxes, abscesses, pneumonia, bruising/trauma and stress. For example, figures for 2012 showed that almost £5 million was lost to the English sheep industry due to 66,500 cases of the parasite Cystercercus ovis, or sheep measles. Similarly, more than £1 million was lost as a result of 742,000 livers being rejected due to Cystercercus tenuicollis, or bladder worms.

Producers also bear the brunt of the impact of Liver Fluke, which estimates suggest causes an annual loss of livers worth more than £1.77 million to the meat trade. The cost to producers for each case of fluke, however, is staggering. On-farm costs are estimated at £87 for each case in cattle and £5.56 for each in sheep – a total on-farm cost to English producers of £25.8 million.

EBLEX’s Better Returns Programme manual ‘Minimising carcase losses for Better Returns’ examines causes of carcase rejections and the financial impact associated with it. More importantly, it offers practical advice and guidance for producers to employ strategies to manage and prevent conditions arising that lead to carcase rejections and impacting on their bottom line.

Ultimately, cattle and sheep sold for slaughter are a food product and have to be passed fit for human consumption. It’s also vital for producers to maximise the full potential of their enterprises. By working with EBLEX to help minimise carcase rejections, the best of both worlds can be achieved.

Presentations from the EBLEX Processor Conference can be downloaded from the EBLEX website.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

GREAT Week for quality beef in Hong Kong

Developing new markets for UK beef and lamb is a key part of our strategy to get the best returns for our levy payers, but the resources of our export team are limited. Going it alone in some of the non-EU markets we are working so hard to develop can prove a challenge.

It’s for this reason that events like GREAT Week Hong Kong & Macau, organised by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), which has taken place this week, are a great example of how we can benefit from synergies through working with other agencies.

GREAT Week involved nearly 20 companies from the UK food and drink industry, together with a similar number of representatives from luxury and retail companies, taking part in a UKTI-organised trade mission. It included a busy programme of briefings, meetings and visits designed to enable UK companies to better understand the market in Hong Kong and Macau, and profile their products to buyers from these vibrant economies.

With Hong Kong being a key target market for UK beef, while Macau is just being opened to our products, we chose to partner UKTI on the mission, taking part in the GREAT Week together with three UK beef and lamb suppliers.

The facts and figures for these markets make impressive reading – luxury is where it’s at in Hong Kong and Macau, as they reap the benefits of their increasingly affluent next-door-neighbours in mainland China. Hong Kong is often described as China’s shopping mall and is experiencing unprecedented growth in the luxury market, with its share of the global market predicted to grow from 2.4 per cent to six per cent between 2012 and 2020.

Macau is the only part of China where gambling is legal and, as a result of this, is growing at a startling rate. In 2013, it attracted 29.3 million visitors, the vast majority of whom were Chinese and had come to take advantage of Macao’s many casinos. In 2006, Macau overtook Las Vegas to become the world’s number one casino city. It continues to grow at a rate of around 10 per cent a year and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Jason Atherton addresses the audience
These markets offer valuable opportunities for UK companies prepared to invest their time and resource in figuring out what makes them tick. In addition, their proximity to mainland China cannot be ignored. Provenance, heritage and exclusivity are all key attributes for successful products in these markets - these values chime nicely with the Great Britain brand that UKTI are working hard to build and fit well with our quality, grass-fed product.

As well as having the opportunity to showcase quality beef from England at a number of events, including serving it at a gala dinner, we also used the week as an opportunity to launch a promotion for quality beef from England in four restaurants in Hong Kong. Supported by Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton, who was acting as an ambassador for GREAT Week, nearly 30 Hong Kong journalists attended the event together with other invited guests. Photos from the launch can be viewed on our Facebook page.

Making significant inroads and building market share in countries which are so different from the UK (not to mention an 11-hour flight away!) is always going to be slow progress, but by making the most of opportunities like the GREAT Week, we can ensure we champion quality beef from England across the globe and  gradually build our market share as we get access.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Recruits get inspired at Red Tractor bonfire event

Last weekend, a diverse group of people gathered for a bonfire party in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside to celebrate their shared passion for all things related to British food and farming.

The event, which took place at the Cotswolds farm of Red Tractor brand ambassador, foodie and musician Alex James, celebrated the growing community of Red Tractor recruits who work hard to champion Red Tractor assured food, including beef and lamb, and where it comes from, to consumers.

Alex James sampling some
Red Tractor produce
Alex first rose to fame as the bass player of indie band Blur, however for the last decade he has owned his own farm and has become as well-known as an award-winning cheese maker and food writer than as he is for making music. It was his commitment to British food and farming that led him to become involved with Red Tractor food as their brand ambassador and to be enrolled as the first Red Tractor recruit.

He gamely offered to host a bonfire party for his fellow recruits, a diverse group of people from across the UK who always look for the Red Tractor when shopping and eating out, and would go out of their way to encourage others to do the same. On the night, over 45 Red Tractor recruits and their families came along, including farmers, parents and food bloggers.

As well as enjoying some first-class Red Tractor sourced food and drink, a bonfire and a spectacular firework display, the event was the first opportunity for the recruits to get together and inspire each other by discussing their ideas for raising the profile of Red Tractor in their communities. With representatives from several of the AHDB sectors there, as well as the Red Tractor team and individual food producers, the recruits had plenty of people with marketing expertise who they could bounce their ideas off.

They are encouraged to get involved in anything from hosting events to blogging or tweeting about why people should take their lead and look for the Red Tractor. Although most of the hundreds of people who have signed up probably don’t have the media platform of a celebrity such as Alex James, everyone has their own local community they can influence, either face-to-face or in the virtual world. What better way to promote the benefits of an assurance scheme which has trust and traceability at its heart?

Red Tractor are looking to build their community of recruits – if you are passionate about Red Tractor food and drink and want to help promote the logo to others, visit their website for more information.