Wednesday, 30 December 2015

How livestock farming benefits from a scientific approach

Scientific research and how to apply it to benefit industry has always been of vital importance and the livestock sector is no exception.

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Chief Executive Officer Jane King reiterated this recently at the organisation’s annual Livestock PhD Seminar.

The event provided the ideal platform to highlight the significant challenges facing the livestock industry and the importance of making science practical and applicable on farm, a key part of the AHDB’s work.

It focused on communicating science to farmers and saw 33 PhD students present their research to delegates. The research is part or fully funded by AHDB and is carried out across the three livestock sectors of Dairy, Pork and Beef & Lamb. Presentations on topics including lameness, mastitis, genetics and anthelmintic resistance were well received by attendees and talks were also given by industry representatives.

Delegates heard from AHDB Pork Chairman Meryl Ward about the vital job scientists have in adding value to the livestock sector, as well as the importance of them knowing the industry and working collaboratively with it.

The emergence of antibiotic resistance was brought into focus by Professor Mike Fielder, who discussed the current void in antibiotic discovery and the importance of better detection and analysis to improve treatment. For example, work is under way with AHDB to develop a pen-side test to detect salmonella in calves.

Concluding with an afternoon of workshops delivered by AHDB staff, covering grass and forage management, calf to calving and future challenges for the pig industry, the event highlighted the breadth of AHDB expertise in adding value to the industry. It also underlined the importance of succession planning to help the livestock sector continue to meet the challenges it currently faces and those that may appear in the future.

As Kim Matthews, Head of Research of Development at AHDB Beef & Lamb, put it, “It was great to see so many enthusiastic young scientists presenting some really interesting and important work.”

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

What happened in beef and lamb in 2015?

With less than a week until the New Year, at AHDB Beef & Lamb HQ, we thought we’d take this opportunity to reflect on the outgoing year.

We ended 2014 with the announcement that the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) would be co-funding a post at the British embassy in Beijing for the first UK Agriculture and Food Counsellor in China. Successful candidate Karen Morgan, former leader of Defra’s Competitive Farming team, was tasked with helping to grow food and drink exports to the country, with access for beef and lamb high on the agenda. To put the Chinese appetite for meat into context, they consume 1.7million pigs every single day. That’s a big prize!

However, our market development work for Quality Standard Mark (QSM) beef and lamb has not been limited to overseas markets this year. Our focus on the home market continues to be central to what we do, and ensuring we have a product fit for today’s consumers is central to that. Lamb continues to prove it has a part to play in shopper’s diets, especially within the halal sector.

Muslims consume around 20 per cent of all sheep meat sold in England. A raft of activity took place this year to help raise awareness amongst this group of consumers about the quality and versatility of home-grown lamb and how best to cook it. A halal facts booklet was launched in June to help understand the value of this market. Those wishing to get hard copies of the booklet were able to do so at the Eid Mela Festival in Birmingham in August, where AHDB Beef & Lamb were on hand to share lamb butchery techniques, insights into new and innovating cuts and hand out some delicious tasters.

Sheep meat production for the halal market went on to hit the small screens later that month, with AHDB Beef & Lambs’ 15-minute infomercial – ‘Farm to Fork’. Broadcast to over 136 countries, via the Islam Channel, the film highlighted the quality and traceability of product destined for the Halal market. The infomercial went on to become one of the top 10 most popular videos featured on Beef and Lamb TV – the AHDB Beef & Lamb YouTube channel.

Video content generally was big news in 2015, thanks in part to the launch of the Beef and Lamb Bitesize. The new monthly news digest, launched in February, provides viewers with the latest industry news and market information in a snappy video format. Keen to make use of smartphone and tablet technology, it also provides a platform for farmers and processors to pose questions to the AHDB Beef & Lamb team with the ‘Ask AHDB’ feature.

As our online media content continued to grow, so did our audience. In 2015 (so far!), there have been over 67,835 independent views of our YouTube channel. This translated into a huge 167,884 minutes of content being watched, with an average of seven hours watched each day.

YouTube wasn't the only beef and lamb social media channel to flourish in 2015. Our Twitter account saw its followers grow by almost 25 per cent during 2015, as nearly 2,000 more people decided to keep up to date with the latest beef and lamb news and insights. On average, each month 270 of those followers decided they wanted to share some of these insights via retweeting what they had seen, pushing our messaging out to an even wider audience.

Facebook also continued to grow in importance as a messaging channel for us, as fans of the AHDB Beef and Lamb Facebook page grew by 30 per cent, with more than 1,200 additional people liking the page. Delicious

No one can deny that 2015 was also the year of sport, with both a cricket and rugby World Cup taking place. However, it wasn’t just on the sports pitches where we came up against Australia and New Zealand. In September Team GB, backed by AHDB Beef & Lamb, flew to New Zealand to compete in the ultimate test of butchery skill, the Tri-Nations Butchers Challenge. The tightly fought contest saw Team GB pipped to the post by their Kiwi counterparts. However, the competition, now its fourth year, highlighted the skill and calibre of today’s butchers to an international audience and allowed sharing of best practice.

The year ends for AHDB Beef & Lamb with a new chairman – Warwickshire-based farmer – Adam Quinney. He is joined by new sector strategy director, Laura Ryan, who takes on the role following seven years in the trade marketing team. Their appointments mark an exciting time for the organisation, as we continue to work to our purpose of equipping levy payers with independent, evidence-based information and tools to grow and become more competitive and sustainable. We’re looking forward to 2016!

In the meantime, from all at AHDB Beef & Lamb, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How do we reduce the environmental impact of livestock production?

There is no doubt that livestock contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By-products of the rumen, notably methane, are expelled from both ends of sheep and cattle, float up into the air and contribute to the country’s carbon footprint.
Globally, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) has estimated that emissions from livestock account for 14.5 per cent of all global GHG emissions. This leads to cries to reduce or stop eating meat to save the planet, as well as unfavourable comparisons to emissions from transport, however counter-intuitive that may be.
What is also not in doubt is that we should work towards reducing emissions from the sector through a variety of routes, be it better animal husbandry, genetics or feed efficiency work. However, it is not right that the industry should be made (seemingly the sole) scapegoat for environmental ills with simplistic arguments about reducing meat consumption. Remember, reduced meat consumption leading to reduced livestock may reduce overall emissions, but will not improve efficiency by even 0.0001%. Reducing the number of cars on the road would not improve the efficiency of the vehicles, would it?
The carbon footprint of the industry has been brought back into focus in the last month with the COP-21 climate change talks in Paris. While livestock was not central to the main talks, it did allow pressure groups and industry detractors to take aim at us again. That’s why the International Meat Secretariat (IMS) decided to pull together an international panel of speakers at a press conference to highlight some of the positive strides being made around the world to reduce our environmental impact.
Hosted at the offices of Interbev (AHDB Beef & Lamb’s equivalent in France), the panel comprised Alexander Döring, of the European Feed Manufacturers Association (FEFAC), John Brook , of the United States Meat Export Federation (USMEF), Dave Harrison, of Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Guillaume Roué, IMS President, Jurgen Preugschas, IMS Chair of the Sustainable Meat Committee, Fernando Sampaio, of the Associação Brasileira das Indústrias Exportadoras de Carne (ABIEC), in Brazil), James Wilde (AHDB) and Bruno Dufayet, of Interbev.

Panellists in Paris highlighting how their countries are tackling the emissions challenge
Each speaker gave a brief summary of some of the key activity in their country to tackle the emissions challenge before the assembled journalists, mostly from the French agricultural press, asked questions. The session served to demonstrate the massive amount of work ongoing and the huge amount already achieved, which gets little acknowledgement generally, whilst reaffirming the countries’ commitment to reducing their respective carbon footprints.
Each country has its own story to tell. In France, Bruno talked about the sequestration value of grazed land which is increasingly being used to offset the emissions footprint, an issue which is widely ignored most of the time because the science behind literally varies from field to field, leaving many scientists unwilling to commit to numbers. Fernando talked about efforts in Brazil to combat deforestation – and the reforestation work going on. James highlighted the fact that between 1970 and 2010, emissions from beef animals in the UK were reduced by 40 per cent, as well as talking about the environmental roadmap work for beef, sheep and pigs to help drive the industry forward.
There were also some key underlying messages that all countries had in common. These were that livestock:
  • uses mainly land not suited for crops and for which there is no other productive use
  • are efficient recyclers, transforming 80% of all feed that is not edible, such as grass, biomass, crop residues and by-products, into high-value nutritious animal protein
  • produce important by-products including power, fibre, medicines, slurry for biogas, and manure to maintain soil fertility, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers
  • are necessary for food and nutrition security as well as diversity to diets, and
  • help address the multiple challenges of malnutrition, which include wasting, stunting, obesity, and anaemia in women of reproductive age.
Guillaume Roué, president of IMS, summed it up well when he said: “We all come from different countries, with different production systems, and we are all commercial competitors. But it is important that we work together on key issues that affect us all, like greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare and human health and nutrition.”
The challenge remains to highlight all the good work that is being done to reduce our carbon footprint while working to get a more balanced debate on emissions. Yes, livestock do emit gases, and we must continue to work to improve this further, but they are also vital to sustainable food production, make best use of available land for producing food for a growing population, aid biodiversity, and manage swathes of our land as an effective carbon sink.
It seems though that in an era of fast lifestyles, it is the speed of our change which may be our Achilles heel. After all, you can’t put a catalytic converter on a cow to reduce emissions like you can on a car, can you? Change in our sector will take time.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Progressive groups present opportunities for beef and lamb farmers

Over the last few years, a number of forward-thinking sheep farmers and beef farmers have been meeting in their respective groups twice a year to look at ways that they can improve their businesses and develop their skills. In November, they met for the last time.

These were members of the Beef & Sheep Progressive Groups, an initiative from AHDB Beef & Lamb which has encouraged those taking part to share new ideas, learn from each other and take information back home to apply on their own farms.

Speaking to members of the sheep group at their final meeting on a farm in Aylesbury, it was clear to see that the experience has been a positive one and that friendships have formed. 

At that meeting we asked a few of the guys to summarise what it is they will take away from the group:
  •  “We meet twice a year, they’ve been good, well organized meetings where we’ve had good discussions and met good farmers.” George Fell, York
  •  “The group is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people to talk about issues you may have on your farm and ways you can correct them.” Patrick Green, Northamptonshire
  •  “I’ve taken quite a lot of technical information away from the group that I’ve tried to put in place on my own farm to improve my own flock, and I’ve also taken away some great friendships.” Adrian Beardson, West Cumbria
  •  “It’s been good just actually being together with so many like-minded people, bouncing ideas off each other.” Jamie Wilde
  • “There’s a few beers drunk at the end of the formal meetings, and that’s all part of getting to know each other in a less formal setting to find out what each other does.” James Barker, Bedford
So if the progressive groups are so beneficial, why are the members calling it a day? Well, it’s simply time to hand the baton over to a new group – and anyone interested has just under a week to get their application in.

The groups are coordinated by AHDB Beef & Lamb and they organise farm visits, provide access to industry experts and ensure various aspects of livestock production are included. Typically, these include health and fertility, nutrition and feed planning, breeding, selection for slaughter and business-management.

Anyone interested in joining will be expected to actively participate in Stocktake and have data for their enterprise collected each year, which will be used to track progress and will be discussed at group meetings.

The farmers we spoke to in Aylesbury couldn’t compliment the scheme enough. Praise indeed as they are the ones to benefit from it. As Patrick Green puts it: “If anyone is thinking about joining either of the progressive groups, I would encourage them to do it. You’ve got to put yourself out there in both awkward and enjoyable situations to benefit from the experience of so many other sheep farmers from across the country.”

To find out more, email

Thursday, 3 December 2015

What can AHDB Beef & Lamb do for you?

The diversity within the livestock sector in England is great, which makes communicating with our levy payers a constant challenge. We aim to utilise multiple channels to allow us to reach the maximum number of people to update them on what we are doing, push technical messages, pass on market information – and everything in between.

Through these routes, such as articles in the farming press, websites, events, social media, newsletters, briefings and the like, we routinely include contact details and encourage engagement with us on the issues that matter to you, where we can help most and what emerging issues are affecting you.

However, with the ongoing changes at AHDB generally, and our-rebranding from EBLEX in the summer, we have embarked on an even wider consultation with industry to hear directly from levy payers about what you want from us and where we can add most value.

The activity review meetings across England kicked off this week in Kendal, Cumbria. They continue in Cambridgeshire on December 7, York on December 8, Exeter on December 9, Cheltenham on December 15 and Hampshire on January 12. All levy payers are welcome to come along to their nearest event to have their say on what we are doing well, what needs more work and where you would like to see money spent to help you build a better business.

They are part of a wide-ranging activity review by AHDB, covering its beef and lamb, pork, dairy, potatoes, cereals and oilseeds, and horticulture sectors to encourage debate on future activity.

As AHDB chief executive Jane King said: “We want to listen to what farmers, growers and our supply chain believe will help their businesses to make the most of future opportunities and meet the longer term challenges.

“Whether this is extending our monitor farm work, funding applied research, looking at increased market development, or pooling resources to attract additional funding from external sources, we need the input from our levy payers to support our sector boards in their strategy decisions.”

We have done our best to ensure there is a spread of meetings around the country so there is one near(ish) to you, but we are limited to the number we can do and the time of day they can be done. We are sorry if there is not one that is convenient for you. However, there is a quick online survey to capture your views.

Feedback will be collated and shared with AHDB’s sector boards to help inform their discussions, as part of the business planning process, on where resource should be focused and what will deliver most impact for levy payers.

We will continue to communicate with you through all the channels we can and we welcome your feedback. A two-way dialogue is the best way to ensure we are driving the industry forward together.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

French embassy hosts QSM beef and lamb at restaurant guide launch

You could be forgiven for thinking that the food of choice for international ambassadors is a certain gold-wrapped chocolate treat, but at the French embassy in London this week it was Quality Standard Mark (QSM) beef and lamb that was spoiling distinguished guests.

The event in question was the launch of the Lebey Guide, a new book which lists the top 100 bistros in Paris and the top 100 gastro pubs in London, which took place in the ornate setting of the French embassy in London’s Kensington Gardens. AHDB Beef & Lamb was present to showcase home-grown produce and encourage guests, made up of chefs, restaurateurs, dignitaries and food journalists, to appreciate the virtues of using QSM beef and lamb.

The publication is the first time that a guide lists the best bistros in Paris and London and is printed in both French and English and, importantly, it focuses on meat. Aimed at foodies that reside in the two cities, the Lebey Guide presents a prize opportunity to inform the readership about the factors that make high quality beef and lamb reared on home soil such a premium product.

Of course many French people already enjoy our meat, given that one in five lambs produced in the UK is exported across the channel. But, by being featured in the Lebey Guide, the produce is being placed alongside some of the two countries’ finest dining establishments and chefs, reaffirming its premium reputation.

At the launch on Monday, AHDB’s foodservice project manager, Hugh Judd, prepared and carved cannons of beef sirloin and cannons of lamb for guests to sample. The meat disappeared almost as fast as it was presented, with many chefs and restaurateurs from both sides of the Channel keen to find out more about its provenance. 

Some of those in attendance were familiar with the work of AHDB Beef & Lamb, such as Pierre-Yves Chupin, director of the Lebey Guide who took part in one of our recent Rosbifs visits to the north of England, as mentioned in last week’s blog.
Pierre-Yves Chupin (second left) and Hugh Judd (right) present the winners of the best Paris and London bistros.
The event was opened by French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann, who praised the mutual appreciation of fine dining in both London and Paris and the quality of foodservice from all of the establishments included in the guide.

There was also recognition of the way in which the two nations had stood side-by-side in the face of the recent atrocities in Paris. Ambassador Bermann highlighted the defiant spirit shown by Parisian diners who were using the hashtag #JeSuisEnTerrasse – which translates as ‘I’m sitting outside’.
Ambassador Sylvie Bermann
The establishments shortlisted in the Lebey Guide were all reviewed incognito by a panel of critics who visited unannounced and paid for their own meal to ensure the process was objective. The consensus was that many hidden culinary gems were uncovered, and the hope is that many of them who don’t already offer QSM beef and lamb will put it on their menu going forwards.

Hopefully, those of you dining out in London or Paris in the future will find yourself tucking into homegrown beef or lamb prepared by some of the best chefs in the two cities as a result of the Lebey Guide. C'est magnifique!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Grassroots approach to putting beef and lamb on the global menu

The AHDB Beef & Lamb export team plays a vital role in getting quality assured beef and lamb on to supermarket shelves and restaurant menus all around the world.

While much of this is done through export missions, which rely on gruelling rounds of trade shows and business meetings to showcase our products, there is another, very different side to this work.
Back here on English soil, our export team, working together with our regional managers, regularly welcome groups of opinion formers from our target markets who have the opportunity to see English beef and sheep production at first hand.

One recent such visit involved a group of 10 influential French journalists, who took part in a Rosbifs Club trip to the North East of England. The select club, which has been cultivated by AHDB Beef & Lamb’s French Export Manager Rémi Fourrier, is made up chefs, butchers, journalists and other industry professionals who are united in their interest in English beef.

Building up French trust in English beef post-BSE has been no mean feat and the Rosbifs Club has been an important part of this strategy. The fact that 10 journalists, between them covering food, agriculture and the meat supply chain, chose to take time out of their busy schedules to spend two days touring the north of England is testament to the work done by Rémi and his team.

During their trip, the group had the opportunity to experience the full supply chain, including an access-all-areas visit to Dovecote Park, who supply British beef, veal and venison to Waitrose supermarkets nationwide. They also spent time at two farms, learning more about the Stabiliser Cattle Company’s industry-leading feed efficiency project and meeting Mike Powley’s South Devon herd on his family farm in Yorkshire.

The Rosbifs Club visit was followed in quick succession by an inbound mission of Polish chefs and journalists, including one of Poland’s most famous TV chefs, Karol Okrasa. The trip, which was organised by the British Polish Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with our export team, focused on lamb production in the South West of England. Lamb has essentially become a forgotten meat in Poland however, the increasing wealth of the Polish population, combined with their desire to travel and have new experiences, could translate into significant opportunities for our sheep meat exports.

Polish TV chef Karol Okrasa filming for his show
Karol, whose popular television show is usually shot entirely in Poland, brought his film crew with him. He interviewed sheep farmer Dan Newman and a butcher from DB Foods to get their insights into English lamb production, as well as getting some fantastic footage of Dorset’s rolling countryside. The chefs, who had been hand-picked to join him on the trip, enjoyed a butchery demonstration and had the opportunity to cook up a dish using locally produced lamb and seasonal vegetables, a challenge which they embraced with enthusiasm!

While these two visits were very different, their purpose was very similar. Both groups returned to their home countries having had a great experience and having gained a unique insight into our beef and sheep production systems. As influential people within their own field, they will spread the word about what they have learnt and play an important role by acting as advocates for our products. The value of this positive word of mouth can’t be over-estimated.

It goes without saying that in order for these visits to be effective, we’re entirely reliant on ambassadors from across the industry. Without passionate and knowledgeable farmers, butchers, chefs and other industry experts, this type of activity simply wouldn’t be possible.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

New industry bovine TB resources launched

It is no understatement to say that bovine TB has a devastating impact on England’s beef and dairy farmers and their communities. Between January and August 2015, 22,648 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered due to the disease in Great Britain, making it one of the biggest challenges facing the industry, both in financial and emotional terms.

While there is no one single measure that can act as a panacea for this distressing disease, there are plenty of practical actions that farmers can take to protect themselves and their neighbours from bovine TB as much as possible.

Defra Farming Minister George Eustice speaking at the launch
It is these simple steps that are the focus of a new, cross-industry TB biosecurity plan, launched by Defra Minister George Eustice at an event at Hartpury College, in Gloucestershire, today. Compiled with input from experts and vets, the Bovine TB Biosecurity Five Point Plan sets out recommendations to improve disease prevention on farm and in the cattle trade. Behind the five simple actions is a guidance document which provides detailed information on the biosecurity risks and how to reduce them, agreed by AHDB, the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA), the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Landex and the National Farmers Union (NFU).

The plan is one of the key features of a new online TB hub, which has been designed to provide a ‘go-to’ place for British beef and dairy farmers looking for answers to any questions they may have related to bovine TB. The website,, which was developed by AHDB with input from a number of other industry organisations, includes advice and links to further information, covering everything from biosecurity to trading rules.

The path to eradicating bovine TB from England is a long and difficult one. In July 2013, Defra launched a strategy to make England TB free within 25 years. The plan launched today by George Eustice, who has personal experience of dealing with bovine TB on his own farm, marks another step in the right direction.

As the Minister said in his speech: “I encourage all cattle farmers to visit the new TB hub and think about the actions they could take to make a difference to improving the security of their herd - with outbreaks often costing thousands of pounds, it makes sense to take action now.” has been developed by AHDB with input from APHA, BCVA, Defra, Landex and the NFU.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Outlook for beef and lamb in focus at conference

This week saw the AHDB Beef & Lamb Conference examine global opportunities and challenges facing the sector.

Opened by AHDB Chairman Peter Kendall, the impact of farmgate prices and challenges such as the recent International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report linking red and processed meat with cancer, were acknowledged. Importantly, AHDB’s role in meeting and often rebutting such challenges was highlighted.

AHDB Chairman Peter Kendall

Defending the industry is important to acknowledge. Equally as important, however, Peter referenced the many proactive positives, like our work on exports, the domestic Halal market, new cuts development and our Better Returns Programme (BRP), stressing the need to make the most of emerging opportunities to benefit the sector as a whole.

Coming back to the point about the industry meeting external challenges, the presentation by Professor Michael Lee made for encouraging listening. Concluding that ruminant production has a vital role to play in global food security, he also said that grazing systems can supply a high-value product, while delivering an environmental need, something we’ve highlighted previously in our
Landscapes without Livestock report. He also raised a point that we have often said before that ruminants convert feed not suitable for human consumption into food that is suitable for a growing population. 

Another key area touched on at the conference was exports. Stan Phillips, Agriculture Councillor at the US Embassy, gave an insight into the future for US/EU trade for beef and lamb. He outlined how sheep meat imports to the US increased in 2014, with more than 80 per cent of shipments coming from Australia. While we don’t yet have access to the US market, he highlighted how exports of high-quality cuts would provide the best opportunities for UK lamb.

Stan was followed by Beef+Lamb New Zealand’s Dave Harrison who provided delegates with a review of New Zealand sheep supply. They heard how the organisation works and is held to account by producers, why the EU remains an important market, and how the rise of markets in North Asia have been central to New Zealand’s export strategy.

All provided plenty of food for thought and prompted an interesting question and answer panel session, not least on the issue of New Zealand lamb’s impact on the market in the UK. Panel sessions like this are an integral part of any successful conference in prompting debate on key topics. This afternoon panel underlined this with AHDB’s Peter Kendall, Tom Hind, Nick Allen and Chris Lloyd fielding questions in a lively afternoon session.

AHDB Beef & Lamb Conference afternoon panel session

The conference also gave delegates the chance to find out more about AHDB Beef & Lamb’s work, from consumer and trade marketing, to working directly with producers through our Better Returns Programme (BRP) and how we communicate with the industry. Staff were on hand to talk delegates through these respective areas and a series of presentations took place in the afternoon, highlighting specific areas of work.

AHDB R&D Livestock Director Chris Lloyd covered the array of work undertaken through the BRP, while Kim Matthews outlined the volume of research and development projects currently running. Mike Whittemore showcased trade marketing activity, highlighting the importance of our cuts development work in adding value to the carcase, before Rémi Fourrier gave an overview our activities in the French market, from promotional work in hypermarkets to organising visits for industry journalists to look at UK production systems. Rémi also outlined the importance of the
three-year European Lamb Campaign.

Panel sessions prompted lively debate

The AHDB Beef & Lamb presentations concluded with Jane Ritchie-Smith looking at consumer marketing, including the
latest TV advertising campaign, and AHDB Market Development Direct Nick Allen looking at the outlook for beef and lamb from the consumer perspective. Nick focussed on the opportunities in the Halal sector, the impact of the hard discounters on shopping habits and, underlining Peter Kendall’s earlier comments, how we have to be robust in defending the industry when challenged by reports like the one from IARC last week.

Overall, the conference, highlighted the breadth of work AHDB Beef & Lamb does on behalf of the industry, illustrating where the opportunities and challenges are and how we can meet those together. As new AHDB Beef & Lamb Strategy Director, Laura Ryan, concluded, it’s essential for AHDB Beef & Lamb to continue working for, and engage with, the sector to ensure we capitalise on the opportunities for home-produced beef and lamb domestically and globally

Conference presentations can be found on the Annual Conference 2015 page of our website The conference can be viewed in tweets here. A video summarising the even can be found on AHDB Beef & Lamb TV.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Red meat’s crucial role in a healthy balanced diet

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that red and processed meat hasn’t been far from the headlines this week.

Publication of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report linking red and processed meat with cancer prompted the inevitable cascade of media interest. It’s not the first time our industry has been in the spotlight in this way and is unlikey to be the last.

However, amid some of the alarmist headlines, it’s important to retain some perspective and look at what was, and wasn’t said. The IARC hasn’t said eating red and processed meat as part of a balanced diet causes cancer: no single food causes cancer. Nor is it saying it’s as dangerous as smoking.

The Government looked at the same evidence in 2010 and recommended people eat no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day. This week it has confirmed that this advice is not changing. IARC’s findings suggest that eating 50g of processed meat brings a small increase in risk. However, average consumption in the UK is just 17g per day so the average person would need to eat three times their current levels to increase their risk.

Red and processed meat plays an important role in a balanced diet, providing protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins. There’s no evidence that removing meat from your diet protects against cancer. The argument for the positive role red meat has to play in a balanced diet is compelling. But don’t just take our word for it. A number of articles, interviews and blogs have this week underlined the value of red meat in a healthy, balanced diet.

blog by Zoë Harcombe, for example, highlighted that by singling out red and processed meat, a person’s entire lifestyle and diet is overlooked. This key point was also reiterated by the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton, during an interview on the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Programme. You can listen to Dr Ruxton from 1 hour, 15 minutes and 30 seconds into the programme putting the case for red meat’s dietary benefits. Echoing the importance of overall lifestyle, she pointed out that we are not high consumers of red meat in the UK and drew agreement from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) representative also interviewed that, as long as consumption is kept within the guidelines, there’s no need to cut out red meat at all.

Some balance was also provided by an
article in The Guardian on the 116 things considered to give you cancer. Interestingly, the article highlighted that red meat isn’t on that list. And as Dr Hilary Jones stressed in his report on Good Morning Britain, you can’t look at one food in isolation and say that it causes cancer. He also alluded to the equivalent risks of developing bowel cancer among vegetarians and meat eaters. Dr Jones also stressed the nutritional benefits of red meat in the diet providing a variety of nutrients, all of which are required for general health and wellbeing.

The crux of the matter again appears to be that the meat industry remains in the crosshairs for criticism as a result of such observational studies – an easy target to grab headlines, as has again proven to be the case. The reality, however, is that many more factors are overlooked and are missing from the equation. As Dr Ruxton made clear, most of us are eating an acceptable amount of red meat. We are not, however, eating the right amount of fruit and fibre. Nor are many of us taking the right amount of exercise. Surely these factors are worthy of greater consideration before meat is cast as the villain of the piece again.

With regards to red meat and health, AHDB Beef & Lamb and AHDB Pork have helped create significant resources to support the industry. You can access these at and

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Feeding cattle over winter – how webinars are spreading expert advice to farmers

Being in the business of transferring knowledge, it’s important that we at AHDB Beef & Lamb have a good understanding of how best to reach our main audience, levy payers.

We have a number of tried and tested methods, but are always looking for new ways to share the latest research findings and expert advice. Recently we launched a number of webinars, and despite a few technical glitches at the start, we were able to host vet and nutritionist Debby Brown as she talked about feeding cattle over winter, and so far the feedback has been positive.

Debby Brown

But before we get into the technical aspects of the subject matter, you may be thinking ‘what is a webinar?’ Well, they create an opportunity for multiple people to listen to and watch a presentation by an expert, no matter where they are based. It’s like a conference but people don’t have to travel to attend, you can watch from the comfort of your home or farm office (as long as you have an internet connection).

There is minimal input required from the audience. All you need to do is click a few links, register and then sit back and enjoy the webinar! This is useful, as we know it’s not always easy to leave the farm to attend a face-to-face meeting or conference.

Debby hosted two webinars, the first was called Feeding the Suckler Cow This Winter and the second Growing and Finishing Cattle This Winter. The former saw Debbie talk about the nutrient requirements of both autumn and spring calving cows and give advice about planning rations for them whilst keeping an eye on costs. She focused on providing practical advice on choosing feeds that combine to make a balanced ration and how to monitor if the ration is working for the cow. 

One of Debby's slides showing the way protein is processed

There was an emphasis on the importance of body condition score and the need to measure and monitor the changes in condition, calf growth, intakes and performance, and Debby highlighted the beef Better Returns Programme resources that can help with these tasks. These include the blend and ration calculators and feeding manuals.

The latter webinar, about growing and finishing cattle, saw Debby share expertise on the nutritional needs of the animals. She stressed that the overall target is to optimise performance in health so that the animals give a return on what you want to get out of them.

The webinars have proved useful tools in sharing information to an audience that is spread far and wide and are another example of the way digital technology is supporting the industry. For anyone who was unable to take part, both of the winter feeding webinars are hosted on our YouTube channel, and can be played back at any time.

More webinars will no-doubt be planned so keep your eyes peeled!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Food and Farming Minister puts prospects for beef and lamb exports in focus at Anuga

This week we’ve been at Anuga in Cologne where Food and Farming Minister George Eustice put the positive future prospects for beef and lamb exports firmly in the spotlight.

Anuga saw the launch of our new AHDB Exports brand, with a number of exporters again joining us to network with existing and potential business contacts. They also had the chance to sit down with the Minister and AHDB chairman Peter Kendall to discuss pressing issues, challenges and opportunities facing the sector.

The Minister’s visit, where he also met with industry journalists, proved a great success and he was keen to stress the important role exports play now and will continue to play in the future. He outlined the huge opportunities for, not only premium cuts of beef and lamb, but also the valuable role the fifth quarter has to play in adding value to the carcase and maximising its full potential. The Minister also touched on the important role AHDB has to play, working with government to help secure access to new markets for our products.
AHDB Chairman Peter Kendall with Food and Farming Minister George Eustice
Hosting the Minister was a particular highlight of the five-day trade show, which provides the ideal platform for AHDB to showcase home-produced beef, lamb and this year, pork, to the thousands of visitors who flocked to our stand.

Visitors were able to sample beef, lamb and pork dishes, as well as meet with senior members of the AHDB Beef and Lamb and AHDB Pork team to find out more about production systems. This was illustrated perfectly when the team, joined by AHDB chairman Peter Kendall, met with a delegation from China on stand to sample some of the produce on offer and discuss potential future business opportunities presented.

The AHDB Export stand boasted 250sq m of space, highlighting new developments in the field of premium meats, as well as hosting hubs for exporters to conduct business meetings. During the course of the event, thousands of dishes were served to visitors, helping spread the message about Quality Standard Mark (QSM) beef and lamb.

Visitors enjoying the AHDB Exports stand
But it wasn’t all business. Anuga coincided with the 24th official British Meat Dinner – supported by AHDB Beef & Lamb and AHDB Pork - providing guests from the meat and food industry with the chance to sample beef, lamb and pork dishes, as well as network in an informal setting after a busy day at the event.

Anuga once again didn’t disappoint. A huge amount of work is carried out by our export team months and months in advance to ensure our industry is given the best representation possible to a global audience. Exports are one of the cornerstones of our work and judging by the volume of visitors to our stand there is clearly a huge amount of interest in what we have to offer. As the chairman said, exports are right at the core of AHDB’s work going forwards and our stand at Anuga was a real statement of intent as to what our ambitions are in the global market.


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Red meat in the diet: what you need to know

Very few weeks go by without there being something in the media about red meat and health. Often it is positive, but just as often – sometimes the next day – there can be a story giving the opposite message. Whether it is the Mediterranean diet, red meat and cancer, red meat as a source of protein, or red meat and diabetes, the issues seem endless – and the end message to the consumer is confused.

Separating fact from fiction is the challenge and if we, as an industry, do not work hard to ensure the facts are there for people to make informed choices about what they eat, it does nothing to help maintain the meat eating habit which endures still among 97 per cent of the population.

AHDB has a dedicated meat and health programme split into two arms, with Meat Matters focused on consumer messaging, and a dedicated meat and health resource for healthcare professionals and journalists. The aim is to ensure that evidence-based information about red meat and its nutritional benefits are widely available.

We have produced factsheets on a range of issues that cover everything from cancer to diabetes to weight management, protein and minerals. They are all evidence-based, fully referenced with sources for the data, something rarely seen in anti-meat scare stories in the media.

Of course the challenge to us by anti-meat lobbyists is: well, you would say that wouldn’t you? (As would they about non-meat diets) However, we believe there should be a balanced, properly informed debate on issues around consumption of red meat so people can make their own choices, and our work seeks to provide that balance.

It is always great though when third party advocates champion the importance of red meat in the diet, just as Zanna Van Dijk, a personal trainer and fitness guru with a celebrity client list, did it he Daily Mail last week. She highlighted the importance of red meat as a source of iron to help cut fatigue. This was supported by Dr Carrie Ruxton, a nutritionist and member of the Meat Advisory Panel, which is supported by AHDB red meat divisions.

However, it remains difficult to get clear, evidence-based messaging on red meat out in the mainstream media. This will inevitably lead to more stories in the coming weeks, months and years urging people to cut red meat intake. So here are some key points to remember:

  • Levels of red meat consumption in the UK remain within the recommended intake guidelines
  • Red meat is a significant source of vitamins and minerals, including B12, which is not found naturally in foods of plant origin
  •  Beef and lamb are rich sources of protein, which helps build and maintain muscles.
  • Red meat has a role to play in the diet at every stage of life.

At the end of the day, lean, fresh red meat enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet is something everyone can enjoy, even vegetarians after a few drinks, according to a recent survey, though it suggests they tend to skip the lean and fresh part!

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Beef & Lamb TV keeps industry in the picture with key information

Digital channels are playing an increasingly important role in how AHDB Beef & Lamb communicates with levy payers. This week’s guest blogger, AHDB Beef & Lamb Media Officer, Ben Coates, highlights the latest milestones and how we’re reaching as wide a levy payer audience as possible.
Media Officer, Ben Coates

Last weekend Beef & Lamb TV, our YouTube channel, passed the 100,000 mark in terms of video views, illustrating the growing importance of video as an industry communications tool.

Almost 50,000 of those views have been since January 1 this year, reflecting the growing amount of content we’re producing for levy payers and the wider industry. The weekend also saw the channel top the 500 subscribers mark.

Importantly, it reflects the growing and varied amount of content we are creating. From technical how-to clips and coverage of industry events, to market and industry information updates, there is clearly a strong appetite for what is being produced.

Video has universal appeal and provides an easily digestible format for viewers to access key information at the touch of a button. After all, I’m sure most of us have turned to YouTube to find out how to do something or catch up on what’s been happening at an event. The Beef and lamb industry is no different.

So, what has Beef & Lamb TV brought to the table? The simple answer is a one-stop showcase of what we’re doing for and with the industry to help enhance the profitability and sustainability of the English beef and lamb sector.

I work with AHDB Beef & Lamb’s Better Returns Programme (BRP) and knowledge transfer teams to generate ideas for technical clips. The wider communications team works with service areas across the organisation on a number of projects and often this throws up suggestions for new video content.

Our channel has also benefited from celebrity appearances, with Countryfile’s Adam Henson making a cameo at Beef Expo earlier this year. Temple Grandin has also graced the screen with key technical information.

Beef & Lamb TV also provides a great opportunity to shout about the work we do. Not everyone has a full understanding of the breadth of our work, such as trade development, exports, consumer marketing and knowledge transfer. 

Much of this work is summed up in Bitesize – our monthly video round-up show which gives a five minute summary of the industry. An infomercial produced by the Islam Channel has also been hosted on Beef & Lamb TV and performed really well with viewers who have an interest in this specific sector.

The key is maintaining this regular flow of easily accessible content which is relevant to our core audience to maintain a successful level of engagement. Viewers can also access our videos via the Beef & Lamb Lite app (available on Apple and Android). 

As I mentioned earlier the stats are encouraging. The 50,000 views since January 1, for example, equate to 124,000 minutes watched, which means that on average Beef & Lamb TV is being watched for more than 7.5 hours each day.

We will continue to add new content regularly which can of course be viewed on smartphones, tablets, laptops and more. Acting as a forum to ‘Ask AHDB’ we are also planning to offer delegates to the AHDB Beef & Lamb Annual Conference on November 3 the chance to voice their thoughts and questions to us via video.

By working directly with the industry in this way, we will continue to produce the content levy payers want, not only to help out with practical advice and technical information, but also to ensure they are fully aware of the work we are doing on behalf of the sector in the domestic and global markets.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Team GB pipped to victory in the ultimate butchers challenge

The Rugby World Cup is now in full swing and the nation is banding together in hopes that we can use our home advantage to secure a victory. However England didn't just face stiff competition from the other four teams, including Australia in their group.  Should England be successful, they will also potentially compete against current world champions New Zealand.

But this isn’t the first time the home nation is has gone head-to-head with their antipodean counterparts. Earlier this month Team GB took on both of these countries in the 2015 Tri-Nations Butchers’ Challenge in a closely-fought contest of skill and innovation, which saw current champions, New Zealand, pipcar our boys to the top spot for a third year.

The victors hosted this year’s tournament, the culmination of a five-day study tour which ended with the contest, held at Shed 10 in Auckland. Following many months of refining their skills, the intense competition was three hours long and saw the three six-man teams turn a side of beef, pork and a whole lamb into value-added cuts to produce a world-class display based around a typically English theme, the much-loved English tea party.

The British Beefeaters, a team of six of the nation’s best butchers, were selected after a nomination process which attracted more than 20 entrants from around the country. All those who applied were invited to the trials, held at the IFE in London back in March. Faced with the tough job of whittling 20 down to just six was no easy task for the expert judges, however soon the best six were selected and the practice began.

Whilst the contest recognises the highest level of talent internationally in the sector, the key messages of the challenge go beyond that. Red meat, like all other food and drinks products, operates in a global market, and whilst each country worries over their own sales figures, growth of the trade and demand for the product internationally will benefit all. Working together and sharing best practice can help achieve this.

With more and more people shopping with their eyes, rather than just their budgets, appearance is key to driving sales increases. Ensuring products are consistency well cut, and presented in innovative ways, is central to creating loyalty amongst shoppers. Sharing new product development (NPD) ideas and butchery skills helps to get these results, and the Tri-Nations acts an ideal platform to make this happen.

With the livestock in all three countries reared to some of the highest international standards, the way in which the carcases are cut and presented must do justice to those who spend their time nurturing and producing them. Good butchery will do just that, as well as ensuring maximum carcase

The beef and lamb sector, in almost all countries, faces scrutiny on a number of topics, from environmental issues, to meat and health claims and welfare matters. These common challenges shows there is real value in working together.

The event is also the perfect vehicle to show the younger generation that a career in the butchery trade is a viable choice. Whilst being a butcher may not be seen as the most glamorous career, the Tri-Nations highlights the technical skills, team work, creativity and precision required making it an interesting and specialist vocation.

The tournament is all about engagement with fellow butchers and consumers of all ages, and this is why social media has played a large part in the competition. The teams have created fun, short insights into their practices and processes for YouTube, bantered with each other on the Facebook page and shared selfie after selfie – each team member even had their own selfie stick!

Whilst Team GB didn’t achieve the ultimate result, this time, their skill and innovation showed they are some of Britain’s ultimate butchers! 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Red meat marketing: A world of innovation

Beef and lamb, like other commodities, operates in a global marketplace. Whilst each country competes for sales, the trade needs to grow internationally to ensure that people across the world maintain the meat-eating habit. Collaborating with other countries to share best practice on producing consistent, high quality product is a key to making sure this happens.  

AHDB Beef & Lamb’s ‘World of Innovation’ conference centred on using best practice across the world to help market beef and lamb carcases more effectively to drive red meat sales.

The conference on September 10 at the Tower of London, was attended by representatives from across the retail, foodservice and independent sectors. They were all eager to improve their understandings of trends in the beef and lamb markets, learn how innovation in new product development (NPD) can boost sales, and hear from the keynote speakers from the Beef Innovation Group in the USA.

The event was kicked off by AHDB Beef & Lamb’s head of trade marketing, Mike Whittemore, who gave an insight into the brand pillars which form the trade marketing strategy. Campaigns range from thin cuts steaks, which repositions stewing and braising cuts as quick-cook and versatile, through to initiatives to help trade rediscover lamb and advances in reviving slow cooking. The overview illustrated the breadth of work the team undertake in maximising carcase utilisation and advances in research to meet the demands of the consumer.

Multiple retail trade sector manager, Matt Southam, then gave a beef and lamb market update. With a number of buyers and category managers in attendance, top of their list of questions was what motivates today’s shoppers to put beef and lamb into their baskets. Looking at how, when and who people are eating beef and lamb with, Matt showed that modern consumers looks for convenient quick-to-cook meals which can serve smaller households. With the average time spent making main meals down from 60 minutes in 1980 to 31 minutes in 2014, and 5.4 per cent more people eating alone than ever before, the need to provide an option that suits these changing consumer lifestyles is key for the red meat industry.

Matt revealed that more consumers are moving away from ‘home-made’ cooking. In fact, research suggested people will spend 234% more for meal solutions rather than individual ingredients. For the beef and lamb trade to meet this demand they need to provide recipe inspiration and innovation in packing options to give shoppers an easy-to-cook, yet tasty dish.

AHDB Beef & Lamb’s business development manager, Dick van Leeuwen, provided insight into NPD innovation. He outlined the need for foodservice and retail to offer NPD to keep traditional primals relevant for changing consumer lifestyles. However key to innovation in NPD is consistency. Product consistency is the only way to ensure that trade offers shoppers something good every time and inspires loyalty to the product. He gave brief examples how seam butchering various cuts, like
the rump cap into premium picanha steaks, could add over a £1m to the annual retail sales value of the muscles. However central to Dicks’ message was to get the butchery techniques and cutting specifications right to offer profit and returns.

Keynote speaker, Jim Ethridge the executive director of strategic account management at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), explored consumer trends from the US retail and foodservice markets, with particular focus on power of younger consumers - ‘the millennials’. He showed how food was central to the daily lives of younger consumers. Through social media, young people share food innovation and experiences - 19 per cent of 21 to 24-year-olds have borrowed someone else’s food to take a picture of it and post on social media! For Jim the key to marketing red meat, in particular beef, is to engage on social media to build loyalty and continue to educate young consumers to maintain their confidence in cooking beef in the kitchen.

Steve Wald, the second keynote speaker and executive director of innovation at the NCBA, examined how new technology had helped the US’s beef market change for the better. NPD in the states has been used to create a product that makes a beef dinner at home just as good as eating out. Though Steve’s team are working on a number of projects to help achieve this, the audience were fascinated by their advances in special microwave packaging. The packaging is a cook-in-the-bag concept which cooks whole joints quickly in the microwave, whilst locking in fresh flavour. The added benefit for people testing the product was the minimal amount of washing up to do after it was cooked. Though the initiative is still being developed, the innovative nature of the technology was something Steve encouraged the audience to learn from.

Hugh Judd, foodservice project manager for AHDB Beef & Lamb, was then joined on stage by Inside Foodservice’s MD Simon Peat. The pair gave an insight into trends in foodservice that retailers and independent butchers can capitalise on. Outlining some of the key foodservice operators who are putting lamb and beef on their menus in new and innovative ways, Simon and Hugh showed how many restaurants are moving towards international cuisines but still placing focus on locally sourced products.
The final presentation of the day was delivered by AHDB Beef & Lamb’s marketing communications manager, Mo Fisher. She shared upcoming research the organisation is undertaking linking meat to health, helping to dispel common consumption myths which can be a barrier to sales. The presentation also outlined how the team are working towards increasing awareness of the important role that meat plays in the diet.

Conference chairman and sector director of AHDB Beef & Lamb, Nick Allen, summed the conference’s key message - that innovation is essential if we are to ensure beef and lamb remain part of peoples' busy modern lifestyles.  
To view all the presentations from the day click here.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

How future technologies can revolutionise farming

Future technology and the opportunities it presents for farmers was the centrepiece of discussion at AHDB’s Smart Agriculture conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.

As well as looking at some of the latest agricultural technology currently available, the Smart Ag event on Tuesday (September 8) was an opportunity for our industry to peek over the fence to see what others are doing. How some have embraced robotics was frankly staggering.

From robot bees that could pollinate flowers in the face of declining numbers of real bees, to fruit-penetrating lasers which could sense damaged fruit, there was some real food for thought as to how intelligent machinery could enhance agriculture.

Although beef and lamb production were not specifically covered, the idea of Smart Ag was to exhibit the scope of available technology so that it could be considered by the entire farming industry.

Professor Salah Sukkarieh, Director of Research and Innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, was the keynote speaker. Professor Sukkarieh develops robotic devices and intelligent systems that can operate around the clock, throughout the year, outdoors. These devices can perceive and understand their environment, make informed decisions and carry out subsequent actions – all without direct human input.

Prof Salah Sukkarieh
Already he and his colleagues have designed a 100 tonne automated straddle carrier that moves shipping containers around docks in Australia 24/7. They are also working with a mining company to develop technology that will enable them to operate an entire mine remotely from the far side of the country.

Recently Prof Sukkarieh’s team turned its attention to agriculture. It worked with a farm in Australia to create a pilotless robotic aircraft that can detect and spray invasive weeds in remote locations. The team is also midway through developing autonomous devices that will perform many of the manual tasks involved in large scale pruning, thinning, harvesting, mowing spraying and weeding.

So, does the technology work effectively? Well, the farm is the size of Luxemburg and it’s operated by one man, so it’s fair to say yes.

Another speaker was Dr Jordan Boyle, a lecturer from the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds. Dr Boyle talked about his passion for combining biology and robotics, and said that already progress was being made with life-based technology such as Spot the robotic dog, which can move around at speed in a number of environments and adapt to change.

Dr Jordan Boyle
Perhaps the most important part of Smart Ag was the networking session which encouraged the tech wizards and speakers to engage with the farming industry representatives, so that discussions about industry and on-farm problems could be shared with those who seek to solve all matter of complications with technology.

There was a simple but effective Post It Note wall which proved popular, where delegates could leave their contact details and find those of other attendees. It’s possible that the resulting conversations will sow digital seeds that could change the future of the industry.

The Post It Note wall
AHDB Chairman Peter Kendall summed it up in his welcome notes when he said that farming is on the ‘cusp of a revolution’ as the way in which we manage the environment and the way we produce food will become ever more reliant on precision technologies.

Peter Kendall opens SmartAg
If that is the case it’s important to ensure that we are well placed for it, and Smart Ag was the ideal starting point.