VEGA News Item

The Meat Industy's Woes Intensify - Outlook Unsettled - 06/05/2009

“The economic downturn is dwarfing all other issues for the meat sector,” stated Richard Brown, a consultant with GIRA.
“All the other issues that people have been worrying and fretting about – even disease – have been dwarfed by the economic situation,” he said at the Outlook Conference on meat supplies held at the end of April.

2. He remarked that the recent spate of mergers and acquisitions in both the UK and the wider global meat industry had been brought to “a grinding halt by the recession” and that over-capacity was “still a problem”.

3. He told the industry that while the Brazilian sector may have been struggling in the past year, it had recently seen the Real devalued, which indicated stiffening competition. DEFRA’s Sue Popple warned delegates not to confuse food security with self-sufficiency and she urged the industry to take the problem of climate change seriously – in both adapting to meet the changes it will pose and working to mitigate the damage.

4. The “eat-less-meat” message engaged Richard Loise, Chief Executive and spokesman for the beef industry, which must be ready to tackle “simplistic” messages on meat and the environment: cutting down on carbon emissions was “a danger,” he stated. He cited the example of an American catering company that had recently claimed reduction of its carbon imprint by 25% by no longer serving beef. Saving the planet by eating less meat is simplistic and dangerous: he said that “it’s the kind of simple, headline-grabbing move we’re likely to see from uninformed organizations.” (which include, we note, officials at DEFRA and the Department of Health).

5. Now another Royal Show will be expiring. The first of concern to the meat and dairy-industries, the Royal Smithfield Show, held annually at the end of the year in London’s Earls Court, closed a few years ago and fragmented. This year another Royal Show will be closing its doors for the last time. It will be held at Stoneleigh, Warks from 7th to 10th July and will be the final event in this predicament after the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) declared the shows “no longer economically viable”.

6. The Chairman of the RASE’s Trustees Hugh Oliver-Bellasis explained the reasons for the closure (Meat Trades Journal, 17th April 2009). The response in recent years to the Show had been “a real challenge,” leaving the RASE “with little option.” He said: In the light of the foot-and-mouth disaster in 2001, closely followed by very bad weather 2 years ago and bluetongue last year, the event has struggled – both financially and in its ability to attract both farming and non-farming visitors.”

7. He announced the RASE’s plans for a new program of events from 2010 onwards that develops and enhances the reputation of RASE and that the Society would redouble its efforts to ensure it remains a relevant organization for the 21st century. “We are now working very hard to extract the best and most appropriate elements of the Royal Show – those that may be the foundation for individual technical events or could be grafted on to existing events, such as equine, smallholdings and horticulture, or traditional livestock classes, “Hugh Oliver-Bellasis said of the closure and plans for 're-engagement' with a society that only listens but also hears the call of its audience.”

8. Recent research from BPEX on confidence in the pig-industry, which has been running since 2006, show that overall confidence is half what it was in 2005; fewer producers are looking at investing in buildings and 34% of producers are optimistic about the future. In relation to EU competitors 42% reported an improvement while only 13% responded similarly in 2007. The head of BPEX’s supply chain development Andrew Knowles has blamed lack of skilled labor among factors likely to limit output. He was reporting the view of 13% of producers and 14% of processors, and the need to attract and retain new staff.

9. Professor Robert Pickard, Chairman of the consumers’ magazine Which? declares that “demonizing meat, particularly burgers, was wrong,” because “meat contains essential nutrients, which are unavailable in the quantities necessary through a non-meating diet.” Blaming lifestyle, rather than diet, was the biggest problem. “A beefburger is incredibly nutritious,” he said. “In fact, it’s too nutritious to be eaten in excessively large quantities by sedentary human beings.” It is surprising that Professor Pickard, a neurobiologist, has overlooked other factors that burgers have too much of: BSE, E.coli O157, cryptosporidiosis, and other zoonoses for instance.

10. Events were building up within the succeeding couple of weeks that spelt more woe for the meat industry. May Day’s Meat Trades Journal had to carry assurances that eruption of the latest “hysteria” over swine fever offered “no evidence of risk from this variant of the disease” to consumers of “properly prepared pig meat.” The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens, offered his version of the assurance. Jon Bullock, BPEX Senior Press and Communications Officer also emphasized the advice: “We’ll be talking to consumers as soon as we can to ensure they understand this,” he said.

11. The outbreak has already had a profound effect on international markets. China, Russia, Serbia, and Indonesia have all issued bans on imports from Mexico. Robert Madelin, EU Director General for Health and Consumer Protection, has asserted that the virus is not a “food chain” disease. Despite such assurances, shares in Devro, a maker of sausage skins, and Cranswick, a supplier of pork, fell sharply, “over concerns that shoppers will avoid pig products.”

12. VEGA notes that outbreaks of H1N1 flu, of which the latest version carries genes of human, pig, and bird origins, is transmissible from human-to-human and, presumably, human back to pig. Spring in the northern hemisphere is an unusual time for these outbreaks to erupt, but they may occur in waves of increasing virulence. If the source of the present outbreak is confirmed and if it is contained, there remains the risk of a second wave as winter 2009 to 2010 begins.


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