Farm unions call for sheep processor code to improve transparency

UK farming unions are calling for a sheep processor code to improve transparency and market information available to producers. 

The code aims to improve price transparency, like the beef processor code, but would also call for greater certainty in terms and conditions so producers can plan and improve production.

See also: Read more about the beef processor code

John Royle, chief livestock advisor at the NFU, said: “If we want to drive improvement in the sector, we need to get people producing to [a specification] and you do that by providing more market information.”

Finer details of the proposal are still be to decided, but broadly it will call for:

  • Mandatory deadweight price reporting to improve transparency
  • Standard carcass classification
  • An end to rounding down of weights to nearest half kilo
  • At least 12 weeks notice for producers if the processor changes terms.

Specification standardisation

Charles Sercombe, NFU livestock board chairman said: “There is no standardised dressing specification for sheep and currently there are two in operation – MLC Standard (tail on or tail off) and ‘company spec’, of which there could be many operating at many plants on any given day.

“Sheep carcass classification in the UK remains voluntary and it is still commonplace for many abattoirs, especially the smaller ones, to pay based on weight”
Charles Sercombe, NFU

“With very limited guidance available it is difficult for farmers to make informed decisions.

“Sheep carcass classification in the UK remains voluntary and it is still commonplace for many abattoirs, especially the smaller ones, to pay based on weight.”

Producers had the added uncertainty, said Mr Sercombe, that many processors changed their terms for specifications such as weight limits and dressings at very short notice, sometimes overnight.

Price reporting

Mr Royle added that with such an array of carcass and dressing specifications it was difficult to accurately compare prices that were reported.

However, an EU Commission report in 2013 found that only four processors were actively participating in price reporting across England and Wales.

Mr Sercombe said: “Given that the UK is legally obliged to report prices to the EU and that the UK is the largest producer of sheepmeat in the EU this level of participation is inadequate.

“We would like a processor code to address these issues leading deadweight price reporting and to see an end to the practice of rounding down of weights to the nearest half kilo.”

Farming unions unite

The NFU, NFU Cymru, Ulster Farmers’ Union and NFU Scotland met in Brussels this week to discuss the proposals, following a mass farming protest organised by the European farming union Copa.

The proposal will be put to the supply chain industry for further discussion.

At a European level there is also a call for a task force to address market transparency in the sheep sector.