Farming union leaders from the whole of the BritishIsles have met in London for a Presidential Summit on the current beefsituation.
Discussing wide ranging issues from CAP through toabattoir charges, representatives from the IFA, UFU, NFUS, NFU Cymru and theNFU were unanimous that the current downward spiral of farm gate prices iscausing serious damage to farmers confidence. Retailers, processors andcaterers must all start to take responsibility for the decisions they make andthe impact those decisions have on the sustainability of the beef sector.
Equally unanimous was the call for the promotion ofBritish beef to the consumer by retailers, and the need for long term signalsthat instil confidence in the beef sector, and an end to the short termism thatdamages 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 ongoingcommitment to their producers. NFU President Meurig Raymond said: Allattendees were determined to work together to resolve the current issues facingthe beef industry. I would urge other processors to look at what can beachieved by making long term commitments to their suppliers, similar toDovecote Park.
With a reduced beef supply forecast as we reach theend of the year, and with fewer cattle coming forward, there needs to be achange of attitude and a realization that beef farmers have no option but towork to a long term plan. Its impossible to work to do that when everyone elseis thinking in the short term. It is a clich that we have used before, but thebeef supply is not a tap that can be turned on and off at a moments notice.
Mr Raymond added: Consumers made it clear duringhorsegate that they value shorter supply chains, with provenance high on theiragenda. At that time major retailers made statements of the importance ofeconomically sustainable supply chains and a commitment to build confidencewith producers for a long term supply of beef. Now is the time that is going totest how deep those commitments run.
Imports were also looked at and while the level ofbeef imported from countries outside the EU remains small, and Irish beefcontinues to make up the majority (70 per cent) of beef imports to the UK, allUK union leaders stood united on the need for government and businesses to workto ensure that any beef imports meet the same high standards as those asked ofBritish and Irish assured beef. It is critical that beef, and productscontaining beef, are clearly labelled with the country in which that beef wasproduced, so that consumers can exercise choice as to where the beef they areeating has come from.
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe wasemphatic that there should be a continued drive to export what is rightlyviewed as world class produce. He said: In a well-functioning market there shouldbe sufficient margin in beef for everyone; the farmer, the processor and theretailer. For now we need to promote our product more widely, be it through thelevy bodies working on export opportunities, or through retailers for whatshould be one of their headline products.
With the World Cup coming up and the promise ofmore good weather, farmers will want to see British beef and lamb taking prideof 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 itseems perverse that we are in the situation we are in now. What is needed isfor there to be more trust and a concerted effort to build long termrelationships and sustainability in the chain.