Livestock board chairmen from the UK farming unions have met in Brussels to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the beef and sheep sectors.
The discussions followed Monday’s protests when around 5,000 farmers from across Europe joined forces on the streets of the Belgium capital for a COPA-organised demonstration.
Talks involving the NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union centred around the outcome from the Red Tractor consultation on lifetime assurance for beef, while progress was made on TSE’s and sheep carcase splitting and red tape reviews.
With the call for a European task force to address market transparency in the sheep sector, the group discussed a proposal to introduce a processor code for sheep. This would be similar to the beef processor code and would ask processors to provide their producer suppliers with 12 weeks’ notice of any change to their terms and conditions.
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe 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.
"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. An EU Commission report found that in 2013 only four processors were actively participating in price reporting across England and Wales.
"Given that the UK is legally obliged to report prices to the EU and that the UK is the largest producer of sheep meat 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.”
Lyndon Edwards from NFU Cymru said: “We have seen further pressure on the farm gate price of lamb and it has been an extremely challenging time for the UK’s sheep producers. With an increase in production, the strength of sterling which continues to make exports challenging, the UK is attractive to imports. When this is combined with a fall in consumption, we need now more than ever, a focus on promotion and product innovation from our respective levy bodies.”
Also on the table for discussion was the significant shift in trade patterns of New Zealand lamb entering Europe since the original GATT agreement and current TRQ came into force.
John Royle, NFU chief livestock adviser said: “NZ have a fixed EU quota of 228,000 tonnes. We believe that the move from frozen to fresh, and from carcases to bone in cuts represents a substantive change in the trade since the original agreement in the 1980’s and this change is having an effect on the UK and EU sheep market. We will be taking these issues to the Commission and will work with the sheep task force to ensure these matters are addressed.”
Ulster Farmers’ Union beef and lamb chairman Crosby Cleland said: “In addition to the NZ quota requiring greater attention from the Commission, concerns remain at a national level about how NZ lamb is labelled in the UK. There have been a number of examples of New Zealand lamb found in retail stores being labelling as ‘produced in the UK from New Zealand and Australia.’ This is a clear breach of EU labelling laws for lamb and we would ask that Government take firm action against those who attempt to take advantage of labelling laws in place to protect UK sheep producers.”
NFU Scotland livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam said: “There is huge frustration among sheep farmers that despite being at peak season for home produced lamb, we continue to see imported product from New Zealand promoted on some supermarket shelves. We’re pleased that some supermarkets back our farmers by taking 100 percent British lamb – not just at this time of year but for a full 12 months. We’d also like to see other supermarkets really delivering on their commitments to back our farmers.
"The UK livestock unions are committed to challenging our retail sector to put more effort into promoting home produced lamb on UK the shelves. Their support would be a huge boost to confidence in the face of challenging market prices. But we also need Europe to act and urgently review the trade terms around New Zealand import volumes to establish if these are still relevant.”