VEGA News Item

Farmers Spill the Beans on the Meat Markets - Rising Prices and Shaky Supplies - 24/02/2011

Fears are growing over the UK’s beef supply

1. Fears are growing over the UK’s beef supply. The industry has issued a double warning, published in the Meat Trades Journal (18/02/2011) about supplies “tightening later this year and the rising crippling cost of production.” The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) explained last week that farmers received on average just 48% of the final retail price of their beef. The sector suffered oversupply in 2010, “coupled with a massive hike in feed prices as well as energy and fertilizer costs, which means that most are producing stock problems in the latter half of 2011.”

2. Commentators are describing a growing apprehension that the industry’s crisis could soon mirror that of problems seen in pork. Alistair Mackintosh, the NFU livestock board chairman, urged the industry to “come together and avoid short-termism….We need to see an increase in the farmgate price before the situation becomes unsustainable…..We farmers have been told to look at our costs and we are always doing that – but some we are facing at the moment are frightening. We are faced by the cost of fertilizer doubling, feed prices have increased by 40 to 60%, fuel prices are soaring, and labor is always a concern.”

3. Drawing comparison with “a similar situation in the pork market,” Alastair Mackintosh said that “the big supermarket retailers were scared of putting up the cost of beef on their shelves…. No one supermarket will increase their prices, but within the food chain there are margins that can be more fairly distributed”. The concerns have arisen as Eblex, a levy body representing beef and sheep interests, revealed that the national beef and cow numbers have stabilized for the first time in more than a decade: its research showed a year-on-year decline of less than 0.5% in the UK dairy herd alongside an increase of nearly 3% in beef breading cow numbers. On this basis we can expect the overall national catering cattle breeding herd is expected to stabilize at just over 1.9 million head in 2011 – or some 80% of its level at the start of the century.

4. Mark Topley, senior economic analyst of Eblex forecasts that “prime cattle slaughtering will continue to fall over the coming year.” This is mainly due to reduced pure-bred dairy bull-beef registration as a result of declining intensive rearing demand in the face of the high cereal and bedding prices seen this winter and expected continue thru 2011. 5. All of this woe and gloom emphasize the cogency of the Grow Food, not Feed Message and the farming industry’s neglect of the waste in present conditions of production, which are aggravated by ignorance of environmental aspects and animal welfare. The looming threats of Recession and booming prices of feed and fuel – to which changes 4life in consumption contribute cognate adversities to the dairy-beef-veal job; and nutritionists are beginning to declare a view that consumers should limit their intakes of red meat to less than 70kg daily (which could be regarded as 3 rashers of bacon – an average sustainable and practicable for British consumers, especially if they heed the messages carried by our Portfolio of Eating Plans and the appropriate practice and example). The susceptibility of intensive farming to recent adverse weather in areas of high-input cereal and sugar crops spell, as populations of all domestic populations swell, increase the risks run in feckless farming and economic policies. We have been warned!


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