Cattle health issues and stimulating demand for British beef both at home and abroad were the key challenges for the beef sector in the next 12 months, according the NBA director Kim Marie Haywood, speaking at Beef Expo, Hexham.
And the biggest cattle health issue is still bovine TB and more must be done by government to tackle it, NBA chairman Christopher Thomas Everard told a press briefing at the event.
“There is an opportunity with a new government in place to make progress on the massive damage TB is doing to the industry. But it must be recognised that the disease is spreading in badgers at the rate of 10 miles a year, resulting in 50,000 badgers a year become infected and dying from the disease. Explain this to the general public and support for a badger cull may be more forthcoming.”
Hexham mart auctioneer Scott Donaldson, meanwhile, said that while TB wasn’t a big problem in Northumberland with no confirmed cases in the county since 2001, there were issues with inconclusive test results. “Herd which have been TB clear for years are falling foul of the system when they have an inconclusive test. Even when this animal is slaughtered and the cultures come back as negative the herd still moves onto a one yearly testing regime which affects profitability and places a stigma on the herd.”
But the NBA was more positive about the disease situation for a range of endemic diseases, explained Ms Haywood. “We are working with government departments to look at what can be done to roll out a series of national control programmes for endemic diseases such as BVD. We hope the current moves to launch a BVD eradication scheme in Scotland can be mirrored elsewhere.”
When challenged on the organisations assertion that supermarkets were holding down prime cattle prices, Ms Haywood acknowledged that a predcited fall in demand of 10% this year could be to blame. “Low UK beef consumption is a worry and we have to work harder as an industry to promote beef as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Work needs to be done educating the public and also working on a range of added value cuts to help make more value of some of cuts still being sold at a discount by many retailers. The only way to increase returns to farmers is to add value and to increase consumption.”
Increased work was also needed for exports, she added. “Russia, northern Africa and south-east Asia are target markets for both prime beef and some of the fifth quarter products and we are working hard with DEFRA to ensure we gain more access to these markets.
“There are a number of issues which limit access to these markets, not least the fact that the UK has seen two foot-and-mouth outbreaks in the last 10 years and is still saddled with the BSE tag. We must work hard to shake of the stigma of being the dirty man of Europe when it comes to animal health.” Once again though she said the organisation would be looking to government for help on this front and said the levy boards had a role to play here too.