Charting the course of UK beef exports

At the peak of trade in the mid-1990s, the UK was exporting 30% of the beef it produced. When BSE struck the British beef industry, an export ban wiped UK beef off the world map.

However, since the ban was fully lifted in 2006, our exports have been climbing back up. In 2011, the UK exported 163,107t of fresh and frozen beef, processed beef and offal around the world. The majority of this was exported to Europe but some new markets have been opening up further afield. In the second of our series on who buys UK farm produce, Farmers Weekly asks where does our beef go?

What the market wants

EBLEX has said that its export strategy is to position beef as a premium grass-fed matured product for the food service sector and to optimise returns on commodity beef and fifth-quarter products.

The fastest-growing category is offal, sales of which have more than doubled over the past two years. However, unlike sheep exports, where Europe is looking for a smaller lamb, there is no particular export specification for beef and no premium for a particular conformation.

The euro can have an impact on UK exports, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities. “It becomes more difficult [to sell] when our product is more expensive, but there is still potential for British beef and we think there’s more,” said Peter Garbutt, NFU chief livestock adviser.

For example, large volumes of UK beef goes to the Netherlands, where much of it is then processed very efficiently and further exported. The UK is likely to be buying some of this back, said Mr Garbutt, so we could look at how to move some of this efficient processing over here.

UK Beef meat exports

Recent achievements

The volume of beef exports has been steadily rising over the past few years and, while it has dropped back during the first six months of 2012 because of lower domestic production, it is expected to bounce back in 2013.

Our beef exports have nearly doubled in three years and in 2011 the UK was exporting nearly 20% of production. Emerging markets in 2011 have been eastern European countries such as Estonia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

The rise in exports to African nations is also proving an interesting area. Exports of frozen beef products from the UK to Ghana more than tripled from 2010 to 2011. South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast and Zambia all also began buying UK beef in 2011. Non-EU exports have more than doubled in the past three years.

Target markets

Thirty countries have been added to the export portfolio over the past three years. Two of the largest markets the UK is currently targeting are China and Russia, as meat consumption in these countries is growing due to greater wealth. There are also thought to be huge opportunities to increase volumes to Africa.

One of the most complicated aspects of opening up new markets is getting certification, said Mr Garbutt. “It’s a careful diplomatic process and certification has to be secured from a number of sources. We do have to have BSE discussions, but the UK is now one of the safest countries in the world for beef,” he said.

Livestock 2012

EBLEX will be outlining the market outlook for beef and sheep in a seminar at Livestock 2012 on 4 September at the NEC in Birmingham. For more information on Livestock 2012 see our dedicated page.