At the Royal Welsh Show taking place this week, representatives from the UK’s meat trade bodies including Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), the Livestock Auctioneers' Association, Welsh Government, and processors' bodies British Meat Processors Association and the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers discussed how market prices have fallen of late.
At the meeting, the HCC presented an analysis of current market trends, which have seen market prices for all classes of cattle fall since April. This was attributed to an increased domestic supply of beef cattle and a rise in frozen imports in late-2018 was part of the complex picture, added to subdued demand and weak consumer confidence.
HCC chief executive Gwyn Howells said: “This was an honest and constructive meeting, in which we were all able to share insight into the current market picture. The current prices are causing real uncertainty to beef farmers in Wales and across the UK, and confidence needs to be restored in order to ensure the viability of the sector.
“A range of factors are at work, from changes in supply and demand, low consumer confidence, and the market being affected by contingency planning for Brexit at various points in the supply chain.”
Farming union collaboration
The presidents of the four UK farming unions, John Davies of NFU Cymru, Minette Batters of NFU, Andrew McCornick of NFU Scotland and Ivor Ferguson, Ulster Farmers’ Union, also issued a joint statement on the situation, outlining a five-point plan to tackle the issue (see box). “The UK beef sector is at crisis point: we’ve seen downward pressure on farmgate prices throughout the year and this dire situation cannot, and must not, be allowed to continue. While we accept that this is a complex situation and there are a number of factors affecting this drop in price, beef farmers cannot continue to sustain this decrease any longer. Let’s be absolutely clear - the sustainability of UK beef production is at stake here.
“Together we are calling for action across the whole supply chain - farmers, levy bodies, processors, retailers and the food service sector – in order to bring the UK beef industry back from the brink.”
The union bosses called on the retail and food service sectors to support the beef market. “We have seen some excellent support from some UK retailers, most notably from the Co-op, Morrisons, Waitrose, M&S, Lidl and Aldi, in selling 100% fresh British beef. This demonstrates there is strong consumer demand to buy British beef. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Iceland represent 59.6% of the grocery market which clearly shows that very significant potential exists and more can be done.
“The food service sector also has a critical and increasingly important role to play and we are also calling on them to increase the country of origin labelling of beef products on menus and back this up by providing clear sourcing policies to consumers.”
- The formulation of an intense and co-ordinated period of product promotion and innovation by retailers and processors to help stimulate demand for safe, high quality, fully traceable Red Tractor beef.
- The UK levy bodies must continue to raise awareness around the values behind UK beef production, both at home and abroad, and support the export, retail and food service sectors to deliver on new opportunities, such as the recently opened Chinese market.
- All retailers must ensure their marketing on origin and sourcing is clear at the point of sale and food service providers to give clear country of origin labelling for all beef products.
- Governments across the UK to urgently review their public procurement commitments with an emphasis on UK sourcing.
- Governments across the UK must assess the impact on the UK beef market of the €100 million cash boost provided to Irish beef farmers, while considering mitigating measures to protect UK beef production.