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Crisis meeting highlights concerns for beef industry

By David Porter

A CALL was made this week by Scottish beef producers for emergency government funding to safeguard the future of the Scotch Beef industry.

The Thainstone Centre, near Inverurie saw hundreds of farmers from across the north-east attend a red meat crisis meeting organised by NFU Scotland.

Representatives from throughout the supply chain, including suckler calf producers, finishers, meat processors and auctioneers, came together to highlight the issues faced at each step in the chain in an attempt to find solutions to the current price downturn which is estimated to have cost the industry £30 million since November.

The vast majority agreed that immediate government funding was needed to stem the decline in cattle numbers.

Longer term both marketing and education were needed to inform consumers of the sector’s environmental credentials and boost sales of red meat especially with the decline of prime cuts in favour or cheaper ones such as mince.

AgriScot chairman Robert Neill said the market was plagued by a lack of competition and everyone in the supply chain needed to get together to discuss a way of making beef production profitable for everyone involved.

Scott Donaldson of the Auctioneers Association highlighte a particular issues: “The supermarket is not interested particularly in quality – they at present rely on the dairy industry for their beef.

“There are thousands of calves coming out of dairy cows that they can find homes for to feed to take through to finish and apparently that is what the consumer is happy with but I don’t think the consumer has ever been asked that question.

"The minute the dairy price drops and the milk cows go off, what are they going to do then, they have no answer for that – where is the beef going to come from.”

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “We need to get some control back, we need to work together with our strength to get some of the power back.

”Its not us against them, it is integration across the industry and the food chain.

“Beyond that we need to get labelling right so that people know what they are buying, you need to be informed as consumers.

“Next is to look at additional direct support – there is a gap in the efficiency scheme, we need something being done now.

“I am not as frightened as others are by the dairy sector, there is a place for it but it is not the ultimate answer,

“We should make no apologies for needing government support in the short term.”

His concerns were echoed by Stuart Ashworth of Quality Meat Scotland who explained: "You don’t need me to tell you that the cattle price last week was about 12.5 per cent lower than it was the same week a year ago, which roughly equates to the figures we have been hearing – about £200 less per head.

“From last November that’s something like £30M coming into finishers pockets.

“This point has been made to the government several times over.

“When we look at animals going forward both in Scotland and GB as a whole, we have reduced numbers on the ground.

“As we roll forward the number of animals in the system has reduced on Scottish holdings by July that are around two per cent lower, the issue is building short term that will only increase.

While Murray Hardy of the Meat Wholesalers Association pointed a finger directly at the Scottish Government.

He said: “The Scottish Government is not as supportive to primary producers as they could have been.

“They do so often make positive noises but, if I go back to the Highland Show, wholesalers gave a four point plan to Fergus Ewing.

“Uplift in funding for the beef cattle producers, a simplified beef efficiency scheme, thirdly to extend producer organisation to cover all livestock and finally to revamp the sheep sector support scheme.

“You may ask what has happened since June – the answer is not very much.

“There has been a committee set up to look at this but having been a civil servant I have seen enough of committees to look at things the key is not the result but what is done with it.

“In my opinion setting up a committee is simply not enough, there should be benefit to everyone in the chain.

There was also criticism of coverage of the sector by sections of the media, with the BBC coming in for scathing criticism from both the NFU and QMS, whose Kate Rowlett said: “We have to let consumers know that red meat can be consumed as part of a healthy diet, Scotland is the most suitable environment to produce red meat and we have some of the highest standards in the world.

“We need to assure people in Scotland that if they buy Scottish those vaules are ingrained."

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