Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Why it’s important for livestock to be clean when going to slaughter

“Livestock producers are ultimately meat producers”. 

When our national selection specialist Steve Powdrill articulated that sentence during filming for a video in 2014, he was talking about the importance of ensuring that producers don’t hold on to their lambs longer than necessary in the hope that the price might change for the better.

The reason why was simple. Not only does it cost producers extra in feed to hold onto their lambs, but that feed is converted to extra fat which needs to be removed – at an additional cost – at a later stage.

The message shining through was that the industry needs to work together to ensure the best end-product is delivered at the lowest cost. The consumer gets an excellent product, and in turn is likely to buy it again, and the producer gets a better return on their bottom line.

In recent weeks that message has been voiced again, only this time it’s the issue of livestock cleanliness at the point of slaughter that has highlighted it. In mid-January AHDB Beef & Lamb released two videos (one for cattle, the other for sheep) which demonstrate the danger of dirt and faeces being transferred from the hide or wool of an animal onto the meat during processing and how this risk can increase with dirtier stock.

In order to be able to demonstrate this effectively in the videos, we received special dispensation from a vet to allow animals which would ordinarily be deemed unacceptably dirty to be processed for filming.

The cattle video compares three animals going down the production line from the point of slaughter. Beast 1 is clean and well presented for slaughter, Beast 2 is dirty but well-clipped and Beast 3 is dirty and requires intervention before slaughter.

One of the first cuts on the beef production line is along the brisket, and therefore this is one of the areas that needs to be clean. As the carcase meat is exposed it becomes vulnerable to anything present on the outside of the hide, as shown below.

This is repeated as the carcase goes through further processing, with beasts 2 and 3 repeatedly putting the meat at risk of contamination.

By the time the three carcases are at the end of the production line there is another clear difference between them, and this is where it has a direct impact on the producer. Beasts 2 and 3 have more contaminated meat on them, which is trimmed off. This reduces the weight of the carcase and therefore the price paid to the farmer.

If intervention is undertaken at the abattoir prior to slaughter, such as clipping, then this can be charged back to the producer too.

It is important to recognise the danger that clipping livestock, and cattle in particular, presents to farmers when it comes to handling animals. Additional information on good cattle handling is available from our BRP document Improving cattle handling for Better Returns.

But by producing livestock farmers are producing meat, albeit at an early part of the process, and it’s important that the industry works together and does all it can to ensure the safety of the meat to prevent it becoming associated with an outbreak of a food-borne illness.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Marketing activity in the spotlight at Northern Conference

Around 150 farmers and other industry representatives came together last week for the first NFU and AHDB Northern Beef & Sheep Conference for some years.

The event, which took place at Scotch Corner, in North Yorkshire, looked at how the industry can meet global market challenges and stay competitive, at a time of falling farmgate prices and significant market pressures. Given the topical nature of the subject matter and with a high-profile line-up of speakers, including Dave Harrison from Beef and Lamb New Zealand, Ed Garner from Kantar Worldpanel and Jonathan Birnie from Dunbia, as well as representatives from the NFU and AHDB, it’s no surprise that it was standing room only in the conference hall.

For AHDB Beef & Lamb Sector Strategy Director Laura Ryan, who took up her role in early November, it was a key opportunity to address an audience of levy payers and set out her priorities for the year ahead. Laura, together with NFU Deputy President Minette Batters, spoke during the opening session of the conference.
AHDB Beef & Lamb's Laura Ryan

Unsurprisingly, given the current pressures on the farmgate price, encouraging sales of beef and lamb dominated this session. Following comments from Minette regarding the commoditisation of home-produced beef and lamb, Laura went on to give an overview of the activity the AHDB marketing team is doing to add value to beef and lamb products.

Looking at marketing to the trade, Laura spoke about the work currently being undertaken to improve product consistency and outlined some new product development initiatives, such as the quick-cook thin cut steak range, which is ideal for sandwiches, and the mini roast concept, designed to encourage consumers to consider having a roast dinner as a midweek treat.

Mini roasts were the focus of AHDB Beef & Lamb’s £1 million TV advertising campaign that aired last November, supported by extensive social media, digital and press advertising. However, as Laura pointed out, this is just one element of our consumer marketing activity, which also includes the three-year campaign to promote lamb consumption across a number of EU member states and the Lambsoc youth marketing programme, targeting 18 to 25-year-old university students, plus valuable work with bloggers and other media influencers.

Overseas promotion is an equally important element of the AHDB Beef & Lamb marketing strategy and here Laura gave an overview of the number of markets now available for UK livestock exports (currently 98 for beef and 105 for lamb) and the development work being done to maintain existing markets and open new ones. This includes 727 days of in-store animations on the French market, something which wouldn't usually be seen in the UK, demonstrating how important it is to take a tailored approach to each individual market.

A 20-minute presentation can only ever give a snapshot of the work being done by an organisation with as broad a remit as AHDB Beef & Lamb, but Laura’s talk hopefully gave those levy payers in the audience a flavour of the activity their levy is funding, much of which they would not usually see.

As Laura said in her closing remarks, she’s keen to speak to as many levy payers as possible about the work of AHDB and what our priorities should be. If you weren’t able to make the conference the presentations are now online, or there will no doubt be further opportunities to speak to Laura and the rest of the AHDB team at events over the coming months.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Exports vital role for the sheep meat sector

Exports remain a cornerstone of AHDB Beef & Lamb’s work in helping maximising returns and managing global market volatility for the sheep meat sector. This week’s guest blogger, AHDB Beef & Lamb Export Manager Jean-Pierre Garnier, showcases a new report that underlines the importance of making the most of export opportunities in both EU and non-EU markets.

Maximising opportunities for sheep meat with EU markets and developing more for fifth quarter products for sheep meat outside the EU will play a vital role in maximising returns and managing market volatility as we move forwards in 2016 and beyond.

This has been highlighted in the World Sheep Meat Market to 2025 report which we’ve produced in conjunction with the International Meat Secretariat (IMS). While outlining the positive long-term prospects for UK and global sheep meat exports, the report stresses how UK export competitiveness will remain a key issue for the future of the industry.

The UK is an important player in the world sheep meat market. It is by far the largest producer in Europe and the third largest exporter worldwide. The great strides made in exports of sheep meat and the launch of the AHDB Exports brand at the Anuga trade show, in Cologne, last year underlined the organisation’s commitment to competing on the global stage. The World Sheep Meat Market to 2025 report is about examining the dynamics of the world sheep meat markets and foreseeing the factors in the international trade likely to affect our sheep sector over the next few years.

Although we rely heavily on the European market, equally important will be the continuation of our strategy to export products for which there is little or no demand domestically and elsewhere in Europe to markets where they are valued. Typically, these products are in greater demand in a number of non-EU countries where we have either secured market access or are working hard to do so. This will help maximise use of the carcase and thus maximise returns for the UK supply chain.
It’s important to keep the momentum going and we will again maintain a strong presence at this year’s key industry events and shows around the world where we can showcase our homegrown produce and livestock on the global stage.

Shows in 2016 include Gulfood – the world's biggest annual food and hospitality show – in Dubai, next month, where we will be joined by exporters to highlight UK lamb to key foodservice players from the region. February will also see AHDB Beef & Lamb at SIA, the Paris Agricultural Show. Other key events this year include SIAL in Paris in October – the world’s largest food innovation exhibition. In addition to planned inward trade missions and overseas missions with exporters, 2016 promises again to be a busy year in terms of developing further opportunities for UK sheep meat exports.

Production developments, which in turn will be influenced by producer profitability, will continue to impact on export availability. Importantly, producers will keep a keen eye on currency movements with a correction of the overvalued Sterling well overdue. Ultimately, however, the UK is in a good position long term to increase its trade both within and outside of the EU. Conclusions drawn in the World Sheep Meat Market to 2025 underline this and we look forward to making further progress with our export strategy to help the UK compete on the global stage as we start 2016.

The World Sheep Market Report to 2025 can be found in the Corporate Publications section of the AHDB Beef & Lamb website

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

What's next for AHDB Beef & Lamb?

Laura Ryan was appointed AHDB Beef & Lamb sector strategy director on November 2. In her first blog post in her new role, she shares her aspirations for the sector and what’s in store for 2016.

As new years are all about new starts, looks and resolutions, I thought I would take this opportunity to properly introduce myself. However, though I am new to post, I am certainly no stranger to the meat and livestock industry.

My career in the sector actually began over 10 years ago. After completing my degree in Marketing and a masters in Management, I worked for a large butchery business in the North East of England where I launched new branded premium beef and lamb lines. I joined AHDB Beef & Lamb (formerly EBLEX) in 2007 as marketing executive before going on to be marketing manager for Quality Schemes and took on the Quality Standard Mark (QSM) scheme. The role taught me just how unique the beef and lamb supply chains in this country really are, and what a great story producers and processors have to tell.

However, we need to work see these supply chains continue to flourish. To make this a reality, we have identified two key areas of focus.

The first is to help the beef and lamb supply chain be more efficient through looking at cost reduction, increasing carcase utilisation, waste management and export market access. Both our regional and supply chain teams work hard to share this kind of expertise from within our organisation with our levy payers and stakeholders. This is something I know they will continue to do.

We also do some fantastic work on research and development (R&D) and knowledge transfer (KT). To get more farmers using and implementing our research and ideas, I want to make sure that we continue to evolve and adapt our communications to ensure our messages are timely and useful.  

The second focus is on adding value through improved market opportunities. Developing markets at home and abroad remains a key activity. We want to ensure beef and lamb are fit for purpose and suit modern consumer lifestyles. We will continue to work and engage with the red meat supply chain, from abattoirs to foodservice and retailers, to highlight the value and quality of home-grown beef and lamb. And to make sure we continue to stay ahead of eating trends, we will carry on looking at how new product development can ensure our industry is satisfying the modern day shopper, as well adding value to the whole carcase.

I know how important quality assurance schemes are in adding that value to the industry. The assurance message has an extremely important part to play in protecting our industry and positioning it as responsible and quality driven. AHDB Beef & Lamb will continue to drive awareness of Red Tractor and Quality Standard Mark beef and lamb to influence consumer choice. 

The customer, however, still remains king for us here and that’s why we will work to position beef and lamb as modern, versatile meal solutions that are healthy and nutritious through our consumer marketing programmes.

Ultimately, we want to provide our levy payers with the tools that allow them to make the most of the opportunities available – and they are best placed to identify what those are. We have been holding a number of open activity review meetings for levy payers, asking which levy-funded activities can help build better businesses. There are two more next week, so I would encourage you to attend one of the remaining dates if you can or fill in the online survey.

As we look ahead to the new, it is important to reflect on what we have achieved in the last 12 months. We continued to open markets across the globe, more than 2,000 producers attended at least one of our BRP knowledge transfer events this year to share best practices. Our social media presence continues to grow, with over 167,884 minutes of content watched on Beef and Lamb TV – our YouTube channel.

These are successes I want to see AHDB’s Beef & Lamb sector to build on and develop to ensure we fulfil the wider AHDB purpose to equip levy payers with independent, evidence-based information and tools to grow and become more competitive and sustainable.

Happy New Year to all of you!