The All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb has met in parliament, to discuss opening new markets abroad to secure growth at home.
It was attended by representatives of the meat sector, the National Farmers Union and the National Sheep Association. Five Members of Parliament attended the briefing including former DEFRA Minister Sir Jim Paice MP. The meeting was chaired by Neil Parish MP who is also a member of the EFRA select committee.
Peter Hardwick, head of Trade Development at EBLEX explained the rising trend in both beef and sheep prices. Whilst there is a stable or slightly decreasing consumption in developed countries including the US, there is growing demand from developing countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China.
A growing middle class in developing countries and increased income levels have lead to the increase in meat consumption which suggests demand is likely to outstrip supply in the coming years.
Mr Hardwick explained that in China, for example, between 20 and 30 million people are leaving farms to move into cities – moving from being producers to pure consumers. This has an impact on both food production and consumption.
He also highlighted a growing demand in the Middle East which is not being met domestically so increasing international imports are required, and Britain is benefiting from this new avenue. There has been an increase in sheep exports, primarily to non-EU markets in the Far East and Africa.
The group heard that France is still the major UK trading partner in terms of meat but, for example, Australia now need humanely sourced 'welfare meat' and this can only be procured in volume from the UK.
The meeting also discussed the problem of the Schmallenberg Virus which is affecting a number of farms. A vaccination is only likely to be available from 2013.
The meeting concluded with a reference to the slow economic recovery. Whilst the main market for the UK meat sector is the EU, the non EU market is growing fast and cannot be ignored.
The real value of the UK red meat sector is significant in terms of what it brings into the economy and also in terms of maintenance of the rural landscape.