In an unprecedented move, farming leaders from Great Britain and Ireland met in London this week for a Presidential Summit on the current difficulties in the beef sector. IFA President Eddie Downey and National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns met with the President of the NFU Meurig Raymond and other senior NFU representatives from England, Wales, Scotland and the UFU from Northern Ireland on the beef situation.
All of the organisations were unanimous that the current downward spiral of farmgate prices is causing serious damage to the livestock sector and farmers’ confidence. Retailers, processors and caterers must all take responsibility for the decisions they make and the impact those decisions have on the sustainability of the beef sector.
Eddie Downey said there was strong agreement that the consumption issue must be tackled and there is a real opportunity and need for retailers to undertake more promotions. In addition, there was a call for long-term signals from both retailers and processors that instil confidence in the beef sector, and an end to the short-termism that damages confidence that threatens the long-term future of the beef supply. The farm leaders had discussions around the various promotional agencies working closer together on generic promotion of beef on the UK market.
The IFA President said, “With a reduced beef supply forecast in the UK towards the end of this year, and a forecast reduction in Irish cattle numbers in 2015 and 2016, there needs to be a change of attitude and a realisation that retailers, processors and farmers must work to a long-term plan. The reality is beef supply is not a tap that can be turned on and off at a moment’s notice”.
NFU President Meurig Raymond said, “All attendees were determined to work together to resolve the current issues facing the beef industry. Consumers made it clear during horsegate that they value shorter supply chains, with provenance high on their agenda. At that time major retailers made statements of the importance of economically sustainable supply chains and a commitment to build confidence with producers for a long term supply of beef. Now is the time that is going to test how deep those commitments run”.
Imports was also looked at and while the level of beef imported from countries outside the EU remains small, and Irish beef continues to make up the majority (70 per cent) of beef imports to the UK, all UK and Irish farm leaders stood united on the need for government and businesses to work to ensure that any beef imports meet exactly the same high standards as those asked of British and Irish assured beef. It is critical that beef, and products containing beef, are clearly labelled with the country in which that beef was produced, so that consumers can exercise choice as to where the beef they are eating has come from.
IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said “It was clear from our discussions that the beef price situation is very serious. Farmers across the UK and Ireland have had enough and can take no more price pressure. It was also clear that there is more than sufficient margin across the beef supply chain for farmers, the processors and retailers, provided it was distributed on a more equitable basis”.
Henry Burns said the meeting also discussed a number of important action points including lobbying Ministers and Governments, insisting that they get involved and take action on the beef issue as well as defending the livestock sector against Mercosur and TTIP. In addition, he said many other issues around specifications and Codes of Conduct for processors were discussed.