Farming union leaders from the whole of the UK have met in London for a Presidential Summit on the current beef situation.
Discussing wide ranging issues from CAP through to abattoir charges, representatives from the IFA, UFU, NFUS, NFU Cymru and the NFU were unanimous that the current downward spiral of farm gate prices is causing serious damage to farmers’ confidence. Retailers, processors and caterers must all start to take responsibility for the decisions they make and the impact those decisions have on the sustainability of the beef sector.
Equally unanimous was the call for the promotion of British beef to the consumer by retailers, and the need for long term signals that instil confidence in the beef sector, and an end to the short termism that damages confidence and will threaten the long term future of the beef supply.
As an example of best practice among processors, Dovecote Park and Waitrose were singled out for praise for their ongoing commitment to their producers. NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “All attendees were determined to work together to resolve the current issues facing the beef industry. I would urge other processors to look at what can be achieved by making long term commitments to their suppliers, similar to Dovecote Park.”
With a reduced beef supply forecast as we reach the end of the year, and with fewer cattle coming forward, there needs to be a change of attitude and a realization that beef farmers have no option but to work to a long term plan. It’s impossible to work to do that when everyone else is thinking in the short term. It is a cliché that we have used before, but the beef supply is not a tap that can be turned on and off at a moment’s notice.
Mr Raymond added: “Consumers made it clear during horsegate that they value shorter supply chains, with provenance high on their agenda. At that time major retailers made statements of the importance of economically sustainable supply chains and a commitment to build confidence with producers for a long term supply of beef. Now is the time that is going to test how deep those commitments run.”
Imports were also looked at and while the level of beef imported from countries outside the EU remains small, and Irish beef continues to make up the majority (70 per cent) of beef imports to the UK, all UK union leaders stood united on the need for government and businesses to work to ensure that any beef imports meet the same high standards as those asked of British and Irish assured beef. It is critical that beef, and products containing beef, are clearly labelled with the country in which that beef was produced, so that consumers can exercise choice as to where the beef they are eating has come from.
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe was emphatic that there should be a continued drive to export what is rightly viewed as world class produce. He said: “In a well-functioning market there should be sufficient margin in beef for everyone; the farmer, the processor and the retailer. For now we need to promote our product more widely, be it through the levy bodies working on export opportunities, or through retailers for what should be one of their headline products.
“With the World Cup coming up and the promise of more good weather, farmers will want to see British beef and lamb taking pride of place on the barbeque and on the shelves. We produce world class meat; domestic and international consumers want it, farmers want to supply it, so it seems perverse that we are in the situation we are in now. What is needed is for there to be more trust and a concerted effort to build long term relationships and sustainability in the chain.”