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.