Wednesday, 18 December 2013

2013 Beef & Lamb Review of the year

For an organisation that focuses on adding value to the beef and lamb sector we seem, rather unsurprisingly, to have spent an awful lot of time this year talking about horses.

The year had barely begun when ‘horsegate’ hit the headlines and rarely left them until the late spring and understandably so, with the EBLEX press office fielding more than 100 enquiries on the subject alone.

Earlier this month, the interim report of the Elliott Review set out the current weaknesses of supply chain networks in the UK, ahead of the final report to be published in spring 2014, and suggests measures that can be taken to address them. We will, of course, continue to support all efforts being made to ensure that serious incidents such as ‘horsegate’ don’t happen again. The important thing to remember is this was not a UK problem and all issues were with imported products with long supply chains. However, there are still lessons to be learned.

Ultimately, integrity of the supply chain is crucial for the industry and it must be prepared to let independent auditing take place to help protect consumer confidence on provenance and traceability and help it move forwards in 2014 and beyond.

The extreme weather also made the first few months of 2013 exceptionally difficult for English livestock farmers with a bout of heavy snow coinciding with the peak of the lambing season, causing sheep farmers to suffered serious losses. Consequently, the start of 2013 undoubtedly proved to be a challenge on many fronts.

‘Horsegate’ and extreme weather aside, there were plenty of positives in 2013, from ongoing export successes to research and development work to help drive on-farm efficiencies and help improve returns for producers. Our export team has again been incredibly busy at international trade shows throughout the year and helping Defra secure market access for beef and lamb.

Highlights included the re-opening of the Russian market and the rise in sheep meat exports to Hong Kong. An EBLEX-organised round table at Anuga with secretary of State Owen Paterson also focused on actions the Government could take to secure the opening of key markets for red meat exports. 

On another note, we continued to work towards helping the industry improve its environmental credentials, including the launch of the carbon calculator for sheep farmers in January and the research and development work behind helping beef and sheep farmers reduce their water footprint. EBLEX also contributed to the wider debate in the All Party Parliamentary Group for beef and Lamb’s inquiry into the carbon footprint of the beef cattle and sheep sector.

Working to help farmers become more efficient and deliver better returns from their enterprises is another cornerstone of EBLEX’s work and 2013 was again no exception. Work included a series of in-depth workshops such as those on profitable lamb production to help optimise flock output and the launch of Stocktake benchmarking report which highlighted the gap between average and top third herds and flocks, where enterprises are performing well and where improvements can be made.
 
Looking ahead to 2014, with the conclusion of the consultation on a proposed Halal assurance scheme in mid-January and a Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) for West Country Beef and Lamb set to be in place following a five-month consultation process, the New Year will start in similar busy fashion. With the AHDB Outlook Conference 2014 also taking place on February 12, it looks very much like we’ll be off to a flying start again in 2014.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Why red meat plays a crucial role in the diet

The virtues of sticking to a Mediterranean diet, while demonising red meat consumption, are often touted by those with an axe to grind against the beef and lamb sector. But is red meat really the villain of the piece? This week’s guest blogger Dr Emma Derbyshire, from the Meat Advisory Panel, takes a closer look at the debate and what a Mediterranean diet actually is.

The Mediterranean diet, super-foods, or a just a play on words? Recently, there appear to have been a lot of articles reporting that the key to good health appears to be to follow a Mediterranean diet. It’s also reported that the Mediterranean diet means eating less red meat. But is this a correct understanding of the diet? There are 18 countries on the Mediterranean coastline with differing diets, so I think a Mediterranean diet has become a phrase more than a diet. Here’s why:

Europe versus UK. Who eats more red meat? I don’t deny that the scientific literature on the diet has come to define the Mediterranean diet from Spain, Italy and Greece as high in olive oil, legumes, fruits and vegetables, fish and with a moderate consumption of meat and dairy products[1]. However, statistics also show that Mediterranean countries consume more red meat than the UK[2]. Greece, Spain and Italy are all famous for the meats they produce and eat as a staple. This meat intake is quite different to what is currently communicated as the Mediterranean diet.

Mediterranean diet – the real definition. I think there are problems with the current definition of the Mediterranean diet. Firstly, whilst studies into the Mediterranean diet have considered the dietary pattern generally, there are no substantial studies or meta-analysis research that has looked to define the quantities and regularity of food actually consumed. This is particularly the case with red meat intakes.

Secondly, confusion comes from the scientific definition. Scientists define the Mediterranean diet as a diet with low fatty acid levels.  Grains and vegetable oils, amongst others, provide oleic acid and alpha linoleic acid whilst fish provides a higher amount of omega-3’ acids to omega-6 acids. These acid intakes mean that there is more unsaturated than saturated fat in the diet and this is seen as the highest health benefit to the diet. However, whilst the fatty acid content of a diet is being profiled, again scientists are not actually looking at how much red meat is being eaten.

The fairest way to see a Mediterranean diet is to view it as a nutrient rich diet. This actually means a red meat rich diet as well. To suggest reducing the amount of red meat eaten is an incorrect definition of a Mediterranean diet.


[1] "Get your Meds: the Mediterranean Diet and Health", Ellen Gooch, Epikouria Magazine, Fall 2005
[2] Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, FAOSTAT, Food Balance sheet 2009.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

How to make the most of cooking with steak

Move over wine matching, our colleagues at Simply Beef and Lamb have been matching our steaks with traditional ales to explore the rich flavour profiles some of the different steaks you can find in supermarkets and butchers right now. From IPA to trappist Dubbel, we've asked ale expert Richard Fox and our in-house steak expert Hugh to marry a variety of tasty steaks to their hoppy counterparts. Guest blogger Zhenya Dewfield, EBLEX digital product manager, explains.

Now the trendiest new steak on the (butcher’s) block, the flat iron is gaining popularity with celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, favouring it for its great value and tenderness when cooked rare to medium-rare.

Flat Iron Steak

Hugh and Richard suggested pairing the flat iron with an American amber lager which has flavours of caramel and a little malt-sweetness to add complexity and balance.

The flat iron steak has a full flavour, while lean, the fat within the steak is marbled throughout and the beer is perfect for cutting through and refreshing the palate for the next mouthful. The maltiness and sweetness in the beer enables it to match and complement the flavour punch of the steak.

The classic rib-eye is a tender but well-fatted steak with a fantastic flavour. Our steak expert, Hugh, recommends cooking the rib-eye to medium to allow the fat to cook and release its wonderful flavour.
Rib-Eye Steak

 
Richard suggests pairing the rib-eye with a classic bottle-conditioned British IPA with fruit and caramel flavours. The effervescence of the beer will perform a perfect cutting and cleansing role, well suited to the flavoursome fats of the classic rib-eye.

The most lean and tender of all steaks, the fillet steak needs a beer that allows its subtleties to shine. Richard advises pairing is with a buttery and refreshing Czech Pilsner which is light with a firm, hoppy tang to refresh the palate and prepare it for the next bite.
Fillet Steak
The hanger steak is cut from a lean muscle group near the internal organs, producing a very beefy flavour in the meat. Hugh warns that, like the flat iron, the hanger steak is best cooked rare to medium as cooking for any longer causes this lean steak to become tough. Richard pairs the strong flavours with a full-bodied trappist Dubbel ale - bottle-conditioned, strong, with a rich complexity. Dark in colour, the Dubbel has notes of plums and dates with a smooth palate and accents of bitter chocolate - a perfect match for this juicy, full-flavoured cut of steak.

If you fancy trying any of these steaks with your favourite ale, most are widely available, or ask your local butcher for a guide.

What drinks do you like to pair with a good steak? Find Simply Beef and Lamb on twitter @simplybeeflamb or on Facebook.com/simplybeefandlamb to tell us about it.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

I’m a celebrity – get me some beef and lamb!

The focus of attention for a lot of people at the moment has switched to Australia. For some, it’s the cricket. For others, it’s crickets, or at least some other insect finding its way onto a jungle dining table for a celebrity to devour.

A little closer to home however, insects are finding their way onto French restaurant menus with the mouth-watering gastronomic proposition of palm weevils, water scorpion and grasshopper enticing diners in Montmartre.

Of course, there’s nothing new in people eating insects in many parts of the world, and the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population is well documented. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has reported the demand for animal protein is set to double by 2050 and listed nearly 2,000 insects that could provide a more cost-effective source of protein.

But are we quite ready to ditch our appetite for quality beef and lamb cuts to take up insect eating en masse just yet, or indeed at all? Novelty, niche or a genuine viable long-term source of protein to challenge beef and lamb? Time will tell.

For now, though, lean beef and lamb are fantastic, versatile ingredients that can play an important role in a healthy and balanced diet for consumers, with lean red meat making a significant contribution to health and wellbeing throughout life. And then, of course, there’s the matter of eating quality, the ‘eating experience’ of tucking in to quality standard beef and lamb, using some of the innovative recipes from the www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk website, for example.

And as for the environmental credentials concerning production? We’ve said it before but the UK is one of the most efficient places in the world at producing beef and lamb due to its geography and climate, with less reliance on additional feeds. On-farm GHG emissions have been reduced through improved efficiency by 17.9 per cent for beef in the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, and 9.3 per cent for sheep over the same period. This does not mean though that we should not continue to improve our performance.

So, for now, we’d like to think that both the quality of livestock produced here, coupled with our industry’s commitment to efficient and sustainable production can keep beef and lamb on the plates of consumers for the foreseeable future, while leaving the insects to starring TV roles. After all, as an eating experience, when it comes to beef (or lamb) versus bugs, there really can be no contest.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Stocktake report provides a benchmark for English beef and sheep enterprises

The key to any successful business is keeping costs down and beef and sheep farms are certainly no exception to this rule. However, where they differ from enterprises in other sectors is that many of their costs are hidden. It’s unlikely, for example, that many farmers would factor in unpaid family labour when calculating their costs, or, for that matter, the depreciation of machinery.

This is where the first edition of Stocktake – or the 11th edition of EBLEX’s Business Pointers – comes in. Over the past 10 years, Business Pointers has firmly established itself as an invaluable reference document for beef and sheep meat producers in England to compare their farming enterprise costs with others in the sector. The report calculates average and top third net margins across every type of cattle and sheep enterprise, factoring in all fixed and variable costs, with the aim of highlighting areas of the business that are performing well and those where there is scope to improve net margins.

The reason for rebranding this year’s report is due to the establishment by EBLEX of an in-house benchmarking system – Stocktake. Whereas Business Pointers data was supplied by an external agency, Stocktake data is collected by dedicated staff within the AHDB market intelligence team, from a range of farm enterprises around England. This means we can now include a wider range of data, especially relating to physical factors, allowing producers to better gauge their performance against these benchmark enterprises. Some of the changes are already evident in the Stocktake report, which splits out results from disadvantaged and severely disadvantaged farms for the first time, and gives additional commentary to help producers make decisions about their businesses.

The benchmarking figures don’t always make for great reading, particularly over recent years when the industry has been blighted by spiraling input costs combined with extremely unpredictable weather, both factors which are out of our control. However, this year’s Stocktake report shows clear improvements in all enterprise net margins between the year to March 2013 and the previous year, due to a number of factors, including higher market prices for some enterprise types.

The report also reveals that top third producers in all beef and sheep enterprises spend significantly less on fixed costs than average performing enterprises. This continues to be a key focus area for producers seeking to improve their net margins, as do physical performance and variable costs. Making sure that performance in these areas is as good as possible should ensure that businesses are best placed to cope with other areas of volatility.

Those who are signed up to the EBLEX Better Returns Programme will have received copies of the Stocktake report with the recent autumn mailing. If you wish to request a free copy, email admin@eblex.ahdb.org.uk. Alternatively, you can download the publication from the EBLEX website.

EBLEX hopes to include data from even more farms in its Stocktake analysis next year, so any English producers who wish to benchmark their own costs and contribute to next year’s report should email wendy.walker@ahdb.org.uk or phone 024 7647 8885.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Getting more people cooking with beef and lamb

Ah, university life. While students are well used to feeding their minds in the lecture theatre, when it comes to spending time in the kitchen, do they have much of a clue what to do?

Well there’s nothing like getting out there to find out, which is exactly what EBLEX has been doing as part of its ongoing campaign to get young people cooking five dishes before they reach the age of 25.

The 5by25 Meat Street Takeaway campaign has been busy touring universities throughout the country with Christian Stevenson, AKA FHM magazine food columnist and street food expert DJ BBQ, encouraging students to get cooking with beef and lamb. They are being invited to cook in a trailer – stocked with 60kg of beef brisket − on their campuses with the help of two ‘learn to cook’ stations.
Meat Street draws the crowds in
The aim? To show them how to get to grips with two simple versions of popular recipes – speedy lamb naansand stir fried beef noodles. The proof of the pudding − or in this case the succulent savoury dishes – is, of course, in the eating and they have certainly proved a hit with the nation’s leaders of tomorrow.

DJ BBQ and his team have been drawing large crowds, with positive responses including ‘I only ever used mince for spaghetti Bolognese, I never thought of using it for a stir fry,’ and ‘I tried cooking the speedy lamb naans and they tasted great!’

DJ BBQ helps get the message out about cooking with beef and lamb
Recipe features have also placed within online student publications to encourage people to visit the dedicated website, www.5by25.com, along with the campaign’s Facebook and Twitter pages for further recipe ideas. Recipe videos for a Pulled Beef Brisket and Speedy Lamb Naans, featuring DJ BBQ and food blogger, Kate Gowing have also been produced for YouTube.

We’ve said it before but rain-fed pasture production system means we have one of the most efficient livestock production systems in the world and cooking is an essential life skill. Sure, not everyone wants to be a ‘foodie’, but understanding where our food comes from and how best to cook it is important.

We’ll keep playing our part in teaching youngsters about the importance of food, its provenance and how to cook tasty, quick and simple dishes with quality assured beef and lamb.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

EBLEX annual conference highlights key issues for beef and lamb farmers and meat processors

It’s difficult to know how to gauge the success of a conference these days. Numbers of bums on seats used to be a pretty good benchmark – the more people there, surely the better the event. A good number of questions from the audience was, and still is, another reasonable measure, but does it really give a true picture of success?

The drawback of just looking at numbers attending, of course, is determining how many people are really interested in what’s being said. Most of us have been there – the dry, set-in-their-ways events prompting the overwhelming urge to nod off for 10 minutes or so, before being jolted bolt upright when the applause kicks in at the end of a presentation.

Step forward social media! Love it or hate it, there’s no doubting its power to influence, or that it played a significant role at this year’s EBLEX annual conference at Stoneleigh Park, where more than 170 delegates gained an insight into the key opportunities, issues and challenges facing the beef and lamb sector. While we normally expect around 20 social media mentions a day, annual conference day saw more than 300 tweets using the hash tag #EBLEX2013 and 200 mentions of @EblexTweets. That’s pretty successful in anyone’s book, particularly when allied with a good, old-fashioned comment from the floor describing the conference as “the best ever”.

That said, social media is pretty redundant without a key element of any conference – content. With an impressive list of speakers, audience attention was grabbed from the outset with a series of insightful presentations, covering an array of subjects. They included Somerset farmer and Nuffield scholar Ed Green outlining what we can learn from beef production in the US and South America. Ed gave a fascinating insight into what he had learned on his travels and reiterated that the UK beef sector had a ready-made brand with fantastic opportunities ahead of it – 60 million affluent consumers in the UK, 300 million affluent consumers in the EU and growing export markets.

Somerset farmer and Nuffield scholar Ed Green
As EBLEX chairman John Cross pointed out, while not abandoning the domestic market, exports are essential for a sustainable industry. EBLEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier highlighted the global opportunities where EBLEX’s work has helped gain market access in 69 territories for lamb and 65 for beef. While there is still work to do, we are moving in the right direction exporting beef, lamb and fifth quarter products in a global market.

Morrisons’ agricultural manager Andrew Loftus provided a valuable insight, not only into how his business works, but also consumer trends, such as the increasing number of people who want to buy British – up from 55 per cent in 2007, to 78 per cent in 2013. Delegates also heard how EBLEX Steak Bars are now in 100 Morrisons stores, which has seen a seven per cent uplift in key beef lines. Importantly, he stressed that to keep British food on the shelves, it needs to be competitive and affordable, profitable and sustainable − all areas that EBLEX is actively involved in.

Morrisons' Agricultural Manager Andrew Loftus
A subject that is often misunderstood is the Halal market. Euro Quality Lambs senior director, Rizvan Khalid, not only gave clarity on perceptions of what is Halal, but focused  on the need for transparency and clarity to ensure all consumers get what they want. He also highlighted EBLEX's new consultation on proposed Halal marks for a market where there are growing opportunities.

Rizvan Khalid, Senior Director of Euro Quality Lambs
NFU vice president Adam Quinney outlined how we can be competitive in the world market, despite challenges to production including climate change, animal health and research and development.

EBLEX sector director Nick Allen went on to examine the threats to our sector, coining the T-shirt slogan of the day, ‘chicken is the enemy!’ Acknowledging the challenges of headline industry issues such as ‘horsegate’ and ongoing price volatility, he emphasised that it was encouraging consumers were saying they wanted to buy British. He also stressed the importance of a thriving export market and the need for farmers to control fixed costs to help enhance their bottom line, highlighted in EBLEX’s Stocktake Report.

EBLEX Sector Director Nick Allen

With delegates including farmers, processors and other industry stakeholders also taking the opportunity to visit stands with information on the Better Returns Programme, EBLEX Trade Marketing, EBLEX Consumer Marketing and exports there was no doubt that everyone left this year’s conference well informed and with plenty of food for thought on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. At the end of the day, it was perhaps this fact and the overall buzz of enthusiasm that will mark the conference out as “a good one”.


Speakers taking questions from the floor

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Assurance scheme will deliver clear labelling on Halal sheep meat

Consumers want clarity on the red meat they are buying. Clear labelling can help them make informed choices. For their part, processors and producers know that being associated with an assurance scheme can help promotion and sales while generally raising standards, where necessary. This is true whether your product is destined for the mass market or more targeted ones like, for instance, the Muslim consumer.

So it is heartening, though no great surprise, that the proposals for an assurance scheme for the Halal sector were so widely supported when they were unveiled at EBLEX’s first Halal Forum last week. The Warwickshire event saw more than 60 representatives of Halal businesses and other interested parties come together to have a first discussion around proposals EBLEX has laid on the table about how an assurance scheme might look. They also saw a new religious slaughter education film, as well as received information on promoting healthy eating in the sector and new consumer research.

When the delegates were asked if they would use a Halal assurance scheme, 95 per cent (as measured at the time with an electronic voting system) said they would. However, this is the start of a process, not the end, and there is a lot of detail yet to sort out to ensure it is workable and acceptable to all concerned.

The proposed scheme in its current form actually recommends two separated sides: one for the stunned and one for the non-stunned Halal supply chain. There will be common elements but then will need to be specific standards and specifications for stunned slaughter, covering stun levels, testing of equipment etc. For non-stun, there are fewer variables.

The humane slaughter of cattle and sheep is currently governed by EU law and enforced in every abattoir in England by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) under The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, also referred to as WASK.

EU legislation permits member states to allow an exemption in the case of slaughter of animals without prior stunning for religious reasons and this includes both Shechita (for Jewish consumers) and non-stun Halal. If an exemption is made for slaughter by religious method, it falls outside the normal guidelines for stunning and bleeding.

Stunned Halal using recoverable head-only stunning is recognised both by the FSA and some, but not all, religious groups as a Halal process/product. And this is where much of the debate within the Muslim community resides and where the detail of any assurance scheme may take some time to pin down. Supporters of non-stun say stunned slaughter is not truly Halal because it cannot be proved that the animal is alive at the point of slaughter as it is unconscious.

One point that was made and it is interesting to note, is that in New Zealand, all Halal sheep meat is stunned pre-slaughter. Every so often, they will remove a stunned lamb from the line and allow it to recover to prove that the stun is recoverable – the animal is alive and so the equipment is calibrated as it should be. In the UK, we are not allowed to do this as it contravenes animal welfare regulations – effectively it is considered animal experimentation.

Ultimately, an assurance scheme for Halal red meat is something that consumers are calling for as it will include clear labelling so they can make informed choices: do they want stunned Halal, non-stunned Halal or not Halal at all. Labelling associated with a scheme will give clarity and transparency on this. It is also supported by the Halal supply chain, which can see the benefits of a scheme that demonstrates that high standards are maintained.

A three-month consultation on the proposals is now underway. After that, the responses will be carefully examined and any changes made before a revised scheme is brought back before a second forum meeting next year. While implementation of a scheme may still be some way off, hopefully we are now on the road to something which will end up being of true value for consumers and the supply chain alike.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

How does EBLEX spend its levy money?

Did you know that the £45,000 our trade marketing team spent on product development work in the last financial year resulted in £88 million potential annual growth in the beef and lamb retail market? Or that our £1.2 million investment in market intelligence during the same period led to the publication of free weekly and monthly market updates worth £8.75 million to the industry?

These figures and plenty more examples demonstrating the return on investment of certain key EBLEX activities can be found in our 2012/13 Annual Review, which has just been published.

As a levy-funded organisation, it’s important that we demonstrate to stakeholders that we’re offering value for money and fulfilling our objectives of helping the English beef and sheep meat supply chain become more efficient and adding value to the industry. Due to the breadth of activity that we’re responsible for, and the range of producers and processors we represent, it’s likely that the majority of levy payers are only aware of a fraction of what we do, which is why the Annual Review is such an important resource.

While the AHDB Annual Report gives top-line figures showing what has been spent across different areas of the organisation during the financial year, the Annual Review is designed to complement this by giving more colourful, real-life examples of how levy money has been used.

The review will be distributed to members of the Better Returns Programme (BRP) with the next bulletin, which will be issued in early November. It is also available online at www.eblex.org.uk/publications. Alternatively, hard copies can be requested by calling 0870 242 1394 or emailing admin@eblex.ahdb.org.uk.

If, after reading the review, you’re still keen to know more about what EBLEX is doing, we’ve got a number of events coming up which will help you find out. The EBLEX Annual Conference, which is free for levy payers, is taking place on 5th November in Warwickshire. With a busy agenda looking at the changing face of red meat retailing in a global marketplace and opportunities in the beef and lamb sector, it’s set to be an engaging day.

In addition, our regional team are in the process of organising a series of open meetings, due to take place around the country over the next few months. Details are still in the process of being confirmed, but keep an eye on the events section of our website for more information.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Why beef and lamb exports to West Africa are good news for English farmers

Talking about potential global market opportunities for beef and lamb is one thing, but there’s nothing quite like getting to know potential markets first hand. Guest blogger Jonathan Eckley, EBLEX export marketing executive, writes about his recent fact-finding mission to West Africa with a delegation of exporters representing six UK companies.

There’s never what I would call a quiet working week in the EBLEX export team, but one continent and three countries in five days proved quite a challenge, albeit a useful one.

We’ve said before that West Africa provides plenty of potential export opportunities for the beef and lamb sector. After all, Ghana has a population of 25.2 million, projected to increase by more than 4 million by 2020. Similarly, the Cote d’Ivoire population of 22.4 million is predicted to rise to 25.5 million by 2020, and Benin from 9.9 million to almost 12 million by 2020. And with population and economic growth, so increases the demand for protein.

With this in mind we thought West Africa would be an interesting market to investigate further, particularly for the export of offals. And what an interesting and enlightening visit it proved to be, taking in the contrasting environments of Ghana, Benin and the Cote d’Ivoire.

Exports to Ghana have grown steadily. Combined with economic growth, it naturally makes it an interesting market to investigate. Ghana is one of the major economies in the region and provides an important entry into the wider West African market. We are already conducting some trade there. In terms of offal, we are competitive as it’s a commodity we don’t use extensively in the home market.

Arriving in downtown Accra, UKTI helped us commence a two-day programme on behalf of EBLEX and BPEX. It included a market briefing with an excellent presentation from the legal adviser for the British Commission which gave an interesting insight into the market, as well as practical advice. The programme also included a presentation from the Bank of Ghana on trading in the region.

It even included a speed business-to-business session at the Commissioner’s residence – very useful one-to-one meetings. In addition, visits to distributors and provided invaluable experience in seeing how things are done on the ground there. Frustrations about time keeping on the programme aside, it proved both interesting and valuable for delegates in making some key contacts.

A flying visit to Benin showcased the contrasts in the region. One minute, we were in a street market where meat was being sold. The next, we were passing a trading company, the scale of which provided a stark contrast to the street market we had seen up the road, with hundreds containers of product. It illustrated one thing. While there are obviously the super wealthy, there is clearly an emerging middle class which presents a potential market. The common thread? Growing demand for protein and an opportunity for our exporters.

No time to hang around though. After a brief touchdown in Togo we headed to the Cote d’Ivoire. Abidjan appeared to be much more modern and, given its history, very closely linked to France. Again, UKTI helped us with the programme, identifying key importers and distributors with valuable meeting sessions and visits to two big companies in the country. We left in the knowledge that, while it is a massive market for fish, it is most certainly an emerging market for red meat.

Our five days were logistically challenging, made even more so courtesy of my suitcase going AWOL on arrival and unlike all great magic tricks, failing to reappear. Despite these challenges, the trip was well worth it, providing hands-on experience of markets that you simply wouldn’t get from reading facts and figures alone. As we know, the meat trade is fundamentally about making contacts and establishing trade relationships. There’s no substitute for going somewhere and finding out for yourself what it’s like and West Africa is no exception. A hectic schedule, yes, but it’s fair to say everyone came back with food for thought to either enhance trade relationships or to look to commence trade in the region, with some business already being done as a result. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about – paving the way for our industry to make the most of the huge potential West Africa offers exporters.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Anuga food fair demonstrates the importance of ‘face time’

Even in this age of virtual communications, there’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings. That message could be heard loud and clear from exhibitors at Anuga, the world’s largest food fair, which finished in Cologne yesterday.

With over 155,000 people attending the biennial show in 2011, Anuga offers an international “shop window” for an enormous range of food and drink products. For anyone who hasn’t been to an event on that scale before, seeing the corridors of the huge K├Âlnmesse (the world’s fifth largest exhibition centre) thronged with people from all over the world is a truly impressive spectacle.

Three out of 11 exhibition halls at Anuga are dedicated to meat, making it an important fixture in the EBLEX calendar due to the opportunities it offers to promote quality assured beef and lamb to the global market.

The busy EBLEX stand at Anuga
Our stand, which was themed as a gastro-pub, acted as a meeting place for UK exporters and importers from around the world, as well as giving visitors the opportunity to find out more about quality assured beef and lamb from EBLEX experts, who covered everything from production systems to cooking techniques.

Product samples are crucial and we offered a range of innovative beef and lamb taster dishes throughout the show. On Monday, traditionally the busiest day of the event, we served up close to 300 dishes – a record number!

The UK presence at Anuga was no doubt boosted by the attendance of Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson, who launched a major export campaign at the event. During his visit he participated in a red meat industry roundtable, organised by EBLEX and chaired by AHDB chairman John Godfrey, which addressed actions Government could take to support the opening of key markets to UK red meat exports.

Mr Paterson also did a tour of the UK stands, and even took time out on the EBLEX stand to sample a steak! His willingness to engage with the industry and his enthusiasm for exports were certainly well-received by those at the show.
Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson meets exhibitors
on the EBLEX stand

Away from the exhibition halls, EBLEX and BPEX organised the British Meat Dinner, which took place on Monday night at the Wolkenburg, an impressive baroque venue in Cologne. Around 250 contacts from around the world attended the event, which is designed to cement existing relationships and build new ones.

Trade fairs such as Anuga require a significant investment from EBLEX, both financially and in terms of resource. The results certainly aren’t immediate, but the healthy recovery of the export market for UK beef and lamb in recent years is due in no small part to events like this helping put us on the world map.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

GHG emissions from livestock revised down in new FAO report

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from livestock are a serious issue for the sector. It is something on which EBLEX took a lead early on with our roadmap work and we continue to press the messages of how cutting on-farm environmental impact can go hand-in-hand with improved returns.

We have several projects looking at how changes in feed can cut emissions from animals and we play an active role in the Government’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan work.

So it can be frustrating to see throwaway lines in the mainstream press, often from single issue pressure groups, blaming livestock for climate change; the kind of “stop eating meat to save the planet” message which crops up with regular monotony.

The most quoted figure to support this is that 18 per cent of global GHG emissions come from livestock, which came from the 2006 United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report Livestock’s Long Shadow. That report went on to say that the contribution was “a higher share than transport”.

However, in 2010, scientists involved in writing the report admitted that it was flawed in some areas and the United Nations said it would revisit it to address concerns.

Last week, we finally saw the review published. The headlines from “Tackling climate change through livestockare that the 18 per cent figure has been revised down to 14.5 per cent, the report has a less accusatory tone, with more of a recognition of the role of livestock in society and the economy and a more positive view of what can be done to improve things – not just by reducing numbers and consumption. It enthuses that 30 per cent efficiency gains are achievable in the industry without significant changes to production methods. It is all about more efficient working.

The livestock sector is estimated to emit 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) annually. The main sources of emissions are: feed production and processing (45% of the total, including Indirect Land Use Change), enteric fermentation from ruminants (39%), and manure decomposition (10%). The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products. About 44% of livestock emissions are in the form of methane (CH4).

For ruminants, particularly cattle, the report states the greatest potential involves improving animal and herd efficiency, eg using better feeds and feeding techniques, which can reduce methane (CH4) generated during digestion as well as the amount of CH4 and nitrous oxide (N2O) released by decomposing manure. Improved breeding and animal health interventions will allow herd sizes to shrink, while manure management that ensures recovery and recycling of nutrients and energy.

Better management of grazing lands could improve productivity and better manage the land as a carbon sink with the potential to help offset livestock sector emissions. Grassland carbon sequestration could significantly offset emissions, with global estimates of about 0.6 gigatonnes CO2-eq per year. This last statement in particular is a bold one as there is such debate in scientific circles around how to accurately quantify the potential mitigation in carbon sinks under grazed grassland. (For more on this, see the Beef & Lamb APPG report)

These are all areas where EBLEX already has active projects, which is good news for farmers and for the long term prospects of meeting tough emission reduction targets.

It is worth noting also that this report looks at the global picture. Some parts of the world, such as the UK, are much more efficient at producing beef and lamb because of their geography and climate, and have less reliance on additional feeds. Our own look at the efficiency trend of the industry in this country showed that we are heading in a positive direction, reducing on-farm GHG emissions through improved efficiency by 17.9 per cent for beef in the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, and 9.3 per cent for sheep over the same period.  This does not mean though that we should not continue to improve our performance.

This new report from the FAO should be welcomed but should not lead to us relaxing our efforts. There is much that individual farmers can do to reduce their emissions without dramatically changing their production methods (read more here).

Hopefully it will allow observers, commentators and detractors of the industry to keep a better sense of perspective when looking at our environmental impact. After all, while we have seen a 50 per cent rise in global numbers of livestock since 1961, we have seen a near tenfold increase in the number of vehicles.