9 March 2001

Production not up to scratch

DESPITE the UK having the best biological conditions in which to rear beef, practical and political factors are still a threat to the industrys ability to complete on the world stage, warn MLC officials.

Simon Mead, MLC head of beef strategy, warns that a deep-seated change in attitude is needed to improve competitiveness. Although 97% of the population were meat eaters and consumption had recovered to 1994 levels, with retail sales of £14bn, the domestic market is not sufficient to sustain the industry, he says.

"Just 37% of beef producers hit the target specification demanded by big retailers. No other industry could have such a poor hit rate and survive."

The difference between a U+ 3 and 4H animal is 9.9kg of addition fat trim on a 300kg carcass which has soaked up feed on-farm and added to abattoir disposal costs, says Mr Mead.

There are other, more fickle, barriers to be challenged. Changes in consumer demand are like trying to grab the air around you – almost impossible. The population had become cash-rich and time poor and with most meals being prepared in under 14 minutes in the home.

"Perhaps the time has come to see beef not just as a meat, but as a meal component. Our enemy is not necessarily competing EU countries, but the integrated poultry sector and manufacturers of pizza," he explains.

But recognition had to given to the wider threat of freer world trade. With no uniform measure of welfare, progress between the US and EU may be hindered at future World Trade Organisation talks, but the big opportunity for low cost southern hemisphere beef production to increase has to be countered, he warns.