UK Beef Producers Getting Short Changed

UK - A new report from the Soil Association shows British organic beef producers are getting short-changed by their processors and some key supermarkets who are not paying enough to cover the costs of production, and choosing to import organic beef even though there could easily be enough supply in the UK.
calendar icon 4 January 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

These factors are endangering the security and development of organic beef production in the UK and leading to unnecessary carbon emissions, says the Soil Association, the UK’s leading organic organisation.

"The issues raised in this beef report are similar or worse for every organic meat sector"
Phil Stocker, the Soil Association’s Head of Food & Farming

The report, called ‘Where’s the beef?’, shows the current farmgate price of organic beef is unfair and unsustainable. The average price for organic beef in 2006 was in the region of £2.90 per kilo. Compared with the average cost of production of over £3.30 per kilo over the same period shows a loss of around 40 pence for every kilo of beef produced.

When low farmgate prices are considered, alongside the implications of increasing feed costs and anticipated cuts in the Single Payment Scheme, it is not surprising that farmers lack the confidence needed to boost organic beef production to the levels that would support 100% UK sourcing and cover anticipated growth in the market. 70% of organic beef in the UK is sold through supermarkets so most organic beef production is affected by these conditions.

The Soil Association believes that the farmgate price of organic beef is unfair and unsustainable. It is calling on retailers and processors to demonstrate their commitment to UK organic beef by supporting increases in the prices they pay by at least ten per cent next year, and offering long-term supply contracts through the established organic livestock marketing groups.

Phil Stocker, the Soil Association’s Head of Food & Farming, said the intention wasn’t to attack the supermarkets, but find a workable framework for British organic meat which, he stated, meant providing more stability for the UK’s beef, pork and lamb producers.

“The issues raised in this beef report are similar or worse for every organic meat sector,” he said. “We focused on beef because it is an area where supply could meet demand year round almost immediately, and the public would expect this iconic product to be British. Unless we overhaul market structures, and implement some of the changes suggested in the report, there won’t be a UK organic beef sector of any scale.”

Meat miles

The study also found evidence of rising imports, at a cost to the environment and against the recommendations of the Government’s Organic Action Plan, which aimed to ensure that more of the organic food we eat comes from UK farmers. In 2005 (the last year we have reliable data for) the proportion of organic red meat from UK producers sold through UK supermarkets fell from 85% to 79%.

Focusing on the nearest Tesco store to the supermarket’s UK headquarters in Hertfordshire, the Soil Association compared the carbon footprint associated with transporting organic beef from Wales and from Argentina to the supermarket shelf. A 1.5-kilo joint of Argentinian beef clocked up 320.6g in emissions from road and sea – more than eight times the 38.5g transport emissions for a similar joint of Welsh beef.

This means that a Tesco customer buying a joint of organic beef from Argentina once a week, instead of a Welsh joint, will generate additional emissions in a year equivalent to powering an average fridge 24 hours a day for three months, or keeping an average television on for an extra four hours each day throughout the year.

To avoid these unnecessary emissions, the report recommends that supermarkets still relying significantly on imports should make pledges to increase the volumes of beef they are prepared to source from the UK in the future. A commitment to clear targets would give farmers the security they need to expand production. Each multiple retailer should also set a target for the use of UK dairy bred beef through their lines.

Phil Stocker said, “There is a clear and urgent need to relocalise food production and distribution, given the challenges we face from climate change and peak oil. Countries like the UK should be building their food supplies around their indigenous population, with limited trade to fill the gaps.

Organic farmers should play their part by joining organic marketing groups, if they have not already done so. This approach is essential to give greater collective activity and organisation in the market place - smaller scale spot trading into national markets is not sustainable or desirable for anyone in the longer term.”

Further Reading

       - You can view the leaflet, 'Where's the Beef', by clicking here.

TheCattleSite News Desk

© 2000 - 2023 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.