The National Beef Association (NBA) has welcomed the industry coming together to tackle falling prices in the Beef Summit in London, but says tougher tools than a voluntary code of practice are needed.
The idea for a code, which would govern issues such as the transparency of abattoir charges and notice periods, was one of the main areas for further discussion which came out of the meeting of livestock representatives, the food and processing sectors and Defra Ministers. Cheap imported beef and the clear labelling of beef’s country of origin were also discussed at the summit.
Chris Mallon, NBA Chief Executive, said: “It is clear that action is necessary to tackle the plunging prices of domestically-produced beef, and we welcome the sector coming together to find a way forward. Producer confidence has been badly shaken and it will take a long time to rebuild.
“But the NBA does not believe that a voluntary code is enough to provide stability to the industry. Any code - whether voluntary or not - needs to have an ability to police itself and have enforcement powers.”
Rather than a voluntary code, the NBA believes the beef industry needs a producer ombudsman, similar to the Grocery Code Adjudicator, to oversee the relationship between producers and processors.
“The introduction of an ombudsman would give producers greater confidence that they are being treated fairly, provide a forum to deal with complaints and have the power to enforce its decisions,” said Chris.
The issue of labelling meat clearly so consumers understand where the beef they are buying has come from was also raised at the summit. The Government, lobbied by food producers, has already backed away from demanding that ready meals containing beef state the meat’s country of origin.
David Thomlinson, Chair of the National Beef Association, said: “Consumers must be given the choice whether they want to buy British beef, and support British farmers, or whether they want to buy imported meat which is not necessarily produced to the same high welfare standards and may not have the same traceability as domestically-farmed beef.
“It is vital that the UK brand is obvious at the point of sale, whatever beef products consumers are buying.”
The beef industry, processors and retailers will meet again over the next few weeks to produce a report into the areas a new industry code of conduct should cover. In return, Defra has pledged to work on promoting British beef in export markets and look at the use of Rural Development money to boost the productivity and competitiveness of the sector in the UK.
David said: “Some interesting issues came out of the Beef Summit and it is vital that we continue to press the Government on the problems currently facing producers.
“The NBA will also continue to lobby for the introduction of Beef Ombudsman, without which we will have no guarantees that farmers’ grievances will be properly dealt with.”