BMPA updates, as they happen, on developing issues in the meat industry.
Contains links to member only content.
1 day ago
Several complaints have now been lodged with media watchdog OFCOM echoing the excoriating review of “The Big British Beef Battle” from Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan. This is important because Ade Adepitan is a high-profile celebrity with wide influence, and yet he’s presenting a picture to consumers that’s based on flawed information on which they may base dietary choices that could affect their health.
BMPA’s Sustainability Manager, Lucas Daglish explains why the programme has garnered such negative reviews in our latest article.
Defra is currently looking for independent experts to work on a consultancy basis on an ongoing strategic review within the Beef and Lamb sectors, comparing both regulatory and voluntary farmgate production standards in England.
They want someone who can help to shape analysis and provide scrutiny of the report’s outcomes and results, to ensure credible, authentic, and independent conclusions are drawn. Applications close 15 December 2023.
Last month the Office for National Statistics quietly published new data suggesting that the unemployment rate now stands around 3.5% instead of the 4.2% previously thought. The reason for the revision is that they’re using a new method to calculate the figure more accurately after the standard survey method became unreliable because too few and too small a cross-section of people were participating in it.
The ONS caution that this new method (due to be introduced in March ’24) is still ‘highly experimental’, but it would explain why sectors across the economy are finding it so difficult to find workers to fill roles, and why immigration to fill those vacancies is still vital to feed growth.
The Government recently published its responses to the EFRA Committee’s report on food security. On the subject of labour shortages raised by EFRA, the Government committed to publishing a formal response to the Shropshire Review by the end of 2023, which we eagerly await.
One of the Committee’s overarching criticisms was that Government has “an incoherent approach to food policy” across departments. It recommended a review of departmental responsibilities. However, in its response, the Government maintained that there is “policy coherence, which it says is provided by cross-Whitehall structures enabling coordination”. The Committee seems less than convinced, and recent on-the-ground experiences that we’ve had of dealing with issues involving multiple departments would support that view.
BMPA’s Sustainability Manager Lucas Daglish, along with Quality Mark Scotland’s Sarah Millar will be heading to COP28 to participate in the multiple discussions that will explore the future of meat, livestock production and sustainable food production and nutrition.
Given the sheer number of events and seminars dedicated to the food debate, it’s a perfect opportunity for all players involved (producers, legislators, scientists and consumers) to come together and explore the best ways to transform our food systems to mitigate climate change whilst maintaining a secure supply of nutrition to populations around the world.
Lucas and Sarah are there to listen to the various voices advocating for and against animal agriculture and will be feeding back their impressions and insights to members so they can better understand the challenges that lie ahead. They’re keen to support the need for a rigorous and balanced scientific exchange of views. And they’re also keen to resist the polemic extremes (from both sides) that can often cloud the debate and confuse people who are simply trying to do the right thing for their own health and the health of the planet.
Food policy campaign group the Food Foundation have published a new report ahead of Cop28 which seeks to put pressure on the UK Government and food businesses to measure, reduce and report on the percentage of meat versus non-meat food that’s being sold in the UK.
On first review, we’ve noticed a few points that would benefit from some clarification or correction to ensure readers receive a balanced, contextual picture, which we’ve laid out in our latest article. This may seem like nit-picking to some, but it’s important that any studies – whether they’re pro-meat, anti-meat or somewhere in between – apply the same even-handed rigour.
BBC Farming Today on Thursday morning revealed that they were sent a colourful poster, published by an online casino website. It has a graphical timeline showing what the effects would be if everyone in the UK cut out meat, for just one day a week. The poster shows the progression through the decades, from an increase in eating plant-based foods, to fewer emissions from less livestock. It presents a compelling message to consumers.
However, the whole thing was generated by the AI tool, ChatGPT and, according to emeritus professor of food policy at City University in London, Tim Lang, it presents “a very consumerist approach based on a very thin level of analysis”. He actually picked many more holes in the poster, lamenting the fact that this kind of “misinformation, malinformation and deliberate untruths are flooding into the world”. His interview is worth listening to and his advice to apply “good scientific scepticism” is worth heeding.
Listen (from 13.28)
Relevant skills training is vital for any industry, but particularly so for the British meat processing industry, which has long battled with a lack of appropriately trained, home-grown workers. Part of the problem has been a disconnect between the courses being developed and offered to trainees, and on-the-ground industry needs.
This lack of industry input is about to be remedied with the inclusion of BMPA on the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s ‘Employer Directory’. It’s a direct conduit for industry to channel insights and guidance that will help shape training courses that are tailored to what meat companies really need. Nan Jones, BMPA’s Technical Policy Manager championed BMPA’s accession to the Directory and she’ll be working on behalf of members to inform future training development.
Nikki Christie, deputy director for business services division at IfATE said: “We are delighted to welcome BMPA to the Employer Directory. The fantastic insights and guidance industry-recognised professional organisations provide us with are really important for making sure apprenticeships and technical qualifications stay high-quality, relevant, and credible. BMPA will be a wonderful addition to this influential group of industry experts.”
This week, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee heard submissions from various academics and food industry groups on pricing and competition in the food supply chain. The hearing focused on the impact on consumers, how well they are served by the current structure of the UK’s food supply chain and how well the interests of consumers and suppliers are currently balanced. MPs examined what steps could be taken to promote fairness and redress any existing imbalances.
One of the issues highlighted was the opacity of pricing post farm gate and the power imbalances between suppliers and retailers. The panel discussed how this might be tackled through interventions and more robust action from the Grocery Code Adjudicator.
Cynics might ask ‘which January?’, but Baroness Neville-Rolfe assured an audience at the Institute for Export & International Trade’s Import Export Show that there won’t be a sixth delay in three years to the introduction of border checks on food coming into the UK from the EU.
The arguments against these delays have been well rehearsed and include an un-level playing field for UK producers and the threat of compromised UK biosecurity. The cabinet minister, however, seems confident that checks will finally be implemented, following improved EU preparedness for the changes. She said: ““I think it’s fair to say it’s one of the reasons why people actually welcomed the move away from October to January  for the start of the scheme – we felt that the EU needed more time.”
There have been several recent attempts to discredit the science and scientists behind the Dublin Declaration, which aims to give a balanced view of diet, health and the ecological considerations behind animal agriculture.
The concern is that these criticisms are born out of ideology and over-simplification. In response, the many and diverse scientists around the world who are working to provide un-biased assessments, without fear or favour, have published an opinion piece that seeks to expose these attempts to discredit their work, and to transparently declare their scientific interests, connections and funding.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attain a level of even-handed debate in today’s polarised media landscape, which is why it’s incumbent on all parties – industry, government, scientists, consumers and others – to account for both negatives and positives and ensure we’re not adding to that polarisation. This opinion piece tries to argue that case.
The latest Food Standards Agency Annual Review highlights two concerning issues. The number of local authority Meat Hygiene Inspectors has dwindled to the point that food safety and the detection of food fraud could start to be jeopardised. In addition, the continued shortage of Official Veterinarians available to work in the meat supply chain threatens to seize-up the UK’s meat export trade; and with the extra pressure of forthcoming import checks in January, this will only get worse.
This begs the question: is it now time to review the roles of vets in the food supply chain? Should we consider a similar system to ones in operation in several European countries like Spain? This is where Meat Inspectors receive special training, which is a subset of full veterinary training, so they can deliver the appropriate level of expertise in the meat supply setting. It’s akin to the division of labour between Dental Surgeons and Dental Nurses. If this kind of role were to be created, it would substantially reduce the pressure on the small number Official Veterinarians and reduce the reliance on immigration to fill the workforce gaps.
In his latest article Peter Hardwick challenges the narrative that a dividend of leaving the EU is the ability to develop ‘better’ regulation in order to reap bigger economic benefits. Peter contends that “this is an illusion, and we need to understand the risks we run if we decide to go down this path.”
He puts into perspective what’s really going on behind the positive spin and reveals how both ‘deliberate and creeping divergence’ threatens to undermine our ability to supply our biggest and most valuable market for beef, sheep meat and pork. After reading his piece, it will be obvious that the UK should “stop the clock on further divergence before it’s too late”.
On Wednesday 13th December at 11am, the UK Trade and Business Commission will host a panel debate in front of a live audience on the creation of a new independent Board of Trade. Amongst the panellists will be BMPA’s Trade Policy Advisor Peter Hardwick, former Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable and Professor Clair Gammage, Director of Global Engagement at the University of Exeter Law School.
The two hour event in London, which includes lunch and networking, is an opportunity to hear the opinions of those who’ve worked closely with the UK Trade and Business Commission on structures for trade policy making, and to debate how any new trade deals must balance the needs of UK nations, regions, businesses and interest groups from across the UK.
You may have seen a recent flurry of media activity surrounding a Harvard study apparently linking red meat consumption with diabetes by Professor Walter C Willett et al. Most of the general public audience only got to hear its findings via a Harvard press release because the study itself is only accessible via a paywall. What they didn’t get to do is scrutinise the whole piece.
In her latest article Nina Teicholz performs a characteristically rigorous examination of, not just the study, but the agendas and motivations behind it and finds that it doesn’t pass the sniff test. She exposes its flaws with research and information that’s hard to refute and chastises the authors for publicising a pet hypothesis without having proper proof to back it up. It’s a good example of how any study – from either side of a debate – that aims to prove (or disprove) a hypothesis should be held to account, and a timely reminder to the general public to apply a similar rigour before acting on reports in the media.
After several weeks of wrangling, Red Tractor has agreed to suspend the implementation of any new standards and modules while they undergo two reviews to be conducted by the National Farmers’ Union. The first will look at governance and the second will look more widely at farm to fork assurance.
NFU put out a statement on Tuesday outlining the scope of their reviews, the first of which they say should be completed before their next Council meeting in January. That’s not very long to canvass all relevant opinions. Given the recent confusion and consternation in the industry over the proposed new Greener Farms Commitment Module, this review is clearly needed. However, looking at the scope of the second review, we would urge NFU to engage not just with farmers, but with organisations across the whole of the food chain including processors and retailers.
While production has been heavily curtailed by this week’s industrial action, a combination of emergency veterinary cover for some pork and poultry plants along with some sourcing of material for cutting from the Republic of Ireland has kept meat supplies rolling in Northern Ireland.
However, dialogue and a resolution is still needed if further vet strikes – for which there is reported to be some support amongst the public – are to be avoided. This action highlights the underlying issue that effective government must return to the Northern Ireland Assembly if disputes like this are to be properly resolved. Until then, while we can highlight the implications in the media, businesses can only watch on and hope that those with the power to tackle this issue agree to take the first step forward towards a resolution.
Last year the UK Government took the decision to delay bringing in new labelling requirements for imported EU goods until the end of 2023. This was to give Food Business Operators time to deplete existing stocks of labels and packaging bearing the “UK/EC” identification mark for products of animal origin (POAO) being placed on the market in Great Britain. Other terms and information on packs were also included.
It’s likely that, by now, most companies will be using the new markings on new packaging, but it’s worth a brief reminder that the deadline is approaching when all old packaging must be ditched. We’ve uploaded to the Portal a document from Defra which details the products affected and the new labelling requirements.
October saw the first gathering for the World Meat Congress for five years, and BMPA took the opportunity to head over to Maastricht to catch up with industry colleagues from around the world.
Across the two days there were numerous presentations covering the world market outlook (including different country perspectives and one devoted to China), trends in consumer behaviour and how the industry reacts to changing expectations, sustainability and the legal and market challenges of cultivated meat.
All those presentations are now available for download.
Ahead of AHDB’s Consumer Insights webinar on 2 November, they held a private meeting for members to deliver an overview of the research they’ll be presenting next week. John Gilliland and Chris Gooderham also gave an outline the latest approach to their environmental work including getting the narrative and debate right through reliable, science-based evidence and numbers.
Attendees were also updated on the latest from the Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP) which Lucas Daglish, BMPA’s Sustainability Manager participates in. The FDTP’s objectives are to standardise and improve the methods and data sources used for quantifying the environmental impacts of agri-food organisations and product, with the ultimate aim to establish a mandatory methodology for voluntary food eco-labels.
AHDB are holding a webinar on 2 November at 10am to showcase the latest insights from their five year research around consumer trust in farming, and to discuss topical reputational themes such as health, environment, welfare and buying British. During the webinar the team will be discussing some of the challenges and opportunities ahead including how the cost of living is impacting the meat and dairy category.
After the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance union confirmed that veterinary and meat inspectors will strike for 5 days from Monday 30 October, BMPA members have been sounding the alarm over a lack of information and a contingency plan from government.
Without vets, no animals can be slaughtered, which means they will start to back up on farms. The strike will also disrupt the busiest period of pre-Christmas production of festive favourites like hams and pigs-in-blankets.
A new study from Harvard School of Public Health has been widely reported in the media over the last week. Its headline-grabbing claim is that people who eat two servings of red meat a week are at increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes. However, delve a little deeper into the methodology of the study and the picture becomes much less categorical.
Kate Arthur, Lead Nutritionist at the Defra-sponsored Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) did just that and discovered some shortcomings in the study that bear closer scrutiny.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued new guidance on how businesses can legitimately collaborate on environmental sustainability initiatives without falling foul of competition rules. They’ve also introduced a new ‘Open Door Policy’ which allows businesses and industry groups to approach the CMA for informal guidance on proposed environmental sustainability initiatives.
Sarah Cardell, CMA Chief Executive said that the new Green Agreements Guidance “goes further than before – it gives firms greater certainty about when agreements that genuinely contribute to addressing climate change will be exempt from competition law. Our open-door policy means we can work with companies to give them tailored informal guidance on how they can work together to boost the green economy.”
A week-long strike over pay by hundreds of government vets could cripple parts of the Northern Ireland economy and dramatically disrupt the Irish Sea border. Vets are legally required to do checks at abattoirs and border control posts. Without them, no animals can be slaughtered, and meat products can’t be moved between the UK and Northern Ireland.
If the five-day strike goes ahead as planned from 30 October there will be serious consequences for the pig and poultry sectors, which rely on a smooth, constant throughput of animals. It could also prove sensitive for the UK government which is currently working on an agreement with the DUP over the Windsor Framework. The vets’ walkout could expose the scale of border checks that are still needed to get food from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland, even through the new green lane, and will demonstrate that the Irish Sea border has not been removed.
We won’t know for certain if the strike will go ahead until we receive the obligatory 7 days notice before it’s due to start. BMPA is currently in contact with the relevant authorities and will update members as we get new information.
In his latest article for Meat Management Lucas Daglish, BMPA’s Sustainability Manager, looks back over the recent history of reports on meat’s contribution to global warming emissions.
What he finds is a catalogue of thin detail, glaring omissions and tortured statistics, none of which helps consumers to make properly informed dietary decisions that will benefit the planet whilst maintaining overall health. In fact some of what he finds has been criticised for being ‘intrinsically harmful’, unaffordable and, by the report authors’ own admission, “unsuitable for the young, old, sick, frail, pregnant women and the malnourished”
With the new Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill making its way through the UK Parliament, concerns have been raised in a new report over changes in the Bill that could threaten the UK’s Data Adequacy status. This allows for EU data to be transferred to and processed in the UK. The current Data Adequacy agreement (dated 28 June 2021) contains a sunset clause that limits its duration to 4 years, at which point the UK must prove a continued level of data protection to renew for another 4 years.
The ability to transfer data doesn’t just affect individuals, but is integral to the traceability and compliance system for animal movements between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Indeed the report says that: “A loss of [data] adequacy would render practical compliance with such traceability requirements more cumbersome and costly, if not impossible, therefore impeding NI’s ability to meet the requirements of the Windsor Framework.”
While the renewal date is another couple of years away, the implications of not being granted a further term are already on the radar.
Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon and Trade Minister Richard Lochead have written to the UK Government to voice the Scottish Government’s concern over the terms of a potential trade deal with the United States. They’re particularly concerned that the UK will agree to erode food safety and animal welfare standards to get a deal over the line.
They raise this pertinent point: “It would be entirely counterproductive if we were to undermine these high standards and lose market access elsewhere as the price to secure a trade deal with the United States. More specifically, we have concerns around any potential impact this may have on vital UK-EU trade, and potential increased cost for business directly and through increased scrutiny from our EU partners.”
Danish Crown’s Vice President of Engineering, Henrik Andersen gave an interview to Just Food recently to explain the company’s plans to cut production costs and improve efficiencies by doubling its investment in automation technology.
Danish Crown faces a bigger challenge in Denmark than in other countries due to the high cost of labour. Andersen estimates hourly rates there are twice that of Germany and probably three times what they are in Spain, which is one of the primary drivers for the push into automation. However, he still envisages employing the same number of people, but in jobs that create more value for the company.
It’s a fascinating and wide-ranging interview that paints a picture of the journey other companies will inevitably be embarking on and how it might play out.
Although hormones are not mentioned in the Canadian Cattle Association’s new campaign website, “Say No To A Bad Deal”, the ability to export hormone treated beef to the UK is what sits behind their push to exclude Britain from the CPTPP trading bloc. Farmers Guide has the full story.
The Grocer’s Ian Quinn has highlighted a report recently submitted to the Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which raises some serious concerns over recommendations by the Climate Change Committee to drastically slash meat and dairy consumption. The new evidence from Edinburgh University, commissioned by Food Standards Scotland clearly shows that millions of people would be put at risk of ill health due to mineral deficiencies.
We agree with the ‘less but better’ axiom and would apply it to both animal and plant-based foods. First and foremost, any policy decisions should result in equitable access to foods that provide quality nutrition, particularly to those on lower incomes or who are already vulnerable to the effects of a poor diet.
If political or social engineering drives people to make what they think are more environmentally friendly choices by steering them away from natural, nutritious whole foods, then how that nutrition is substituted is of key importance. It’s not a simple case of instructing people to compensate for the resulting deficiencies by taking expensive supplements and cooking plant-based foods from scratch. Often, people will turn towards unhealthy, highly processed substitutes because they’re cheaper and easier. If that happens, a decline in public health will be one of the unintended consequences.
We support the sector-by-sector and job-by-job approach to assessing workforce needs recently advocated by Professor Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee. He describes a much more granular approach to identifying the industries and roles where the labour shortage is most acute. It makes much more sense for our industry where the current blanket approach isn’t working. This is because each plant can experience labour shortages for very different and localised reasons.
BMPA members have been consistently improving pay and conditions in the meat industry as new technology and a more adaptive approach to staffing has been employed. The large modern meat plant must run to the highest standards across the board if companies are to maintain their reputation and working relationships with their large retail customers, who demand such high standards as a pre-requisite.
But, despite considerable efforts, meat companies still struggle to recruit and retain British workers. This is partly down to an historical (but outdated) perception of the work involved, but mainly due to the geographical location of the plants, which need to be near the farming areas, British workers may need to move to take up those jobs which they’re not always able or willing to do. This results in companies having to go through the expensive and bureaucratic exercise of bringing in foreign workers, who are prepared to re-locate, via the skilled migration route. Unfortunately, that extra cost must then be passed on to British consumers via higher costs of production.
Listen to Brian Bell (from 3:36 minutes)
After months of wrangling, a letter has finally gone out to farmers advising them that, if they want meat and products from their animals to be exported to the EU from 13 December 2023 onwards, they must provide a vet-signed attestation confirming they’ve had a regular farm visit. As parts of almost every animal slaughtered in the UK go for export, whether that’s hides and skins or offal, this affects almost every farmer.
We’ve had a long-held concern that there is little awareness of this new requirement amongst farmers, and little appreciation of the implications of not having a valid vet attestation on 13 December. With only a couple of months before the deadline, this doesn’t give them much time to comply.
Another concern that has arisen after the publication of the letter and accompanying Q&As is how Official Veterinarians at abattoirs will be able to verify the new Veterinary Attestation Number (VAN) for each batch of animals. Currently there is no central database to search and verify the VANs which may pose a problem if such a system is not in place from 13 December. The main thing for now, though, is that farmers get their vet visits completed before the December deadline. We’ve put all the latest information and documents in the Members’ Portal.
Peter Hardwick, BMPA’s Trade Policy Advisor recently gave evidence to a House of Lords committee on the issues our industry has with the new Windsor Framework, which comes into force for agrifoods on Sunday 1 October. It’s intended to make the movement of such goods from GB to Northern Ireland a bit more seamless by introducing ‘red’ and ‘green’ lanes at customs. But, as we’ve highlighted before, it’s not that simple for companies sending meat and animal origin products.
Peter eloquently explained the unintended consequences to our domestic supply chain and revealed some disparities that will open up between how easily overseas countries, from Brazil to Botswana, can trade with Northern Ireland compared to British companies wanting to send goods within our own country.
Defra has launched an eight week consultation to gather views from the industry on their proposals for a new digital traceability system to remove the current cumbersome and hard to navigate paper processes. It will enable the Government to trace disease more quickly and effectively and help safeguard national public health and food safety.
BMPA has been extensively involved in discussions with government and all parts of the food supply chain to explain the complexities involved for abattoirs and meat processors, which are often not well understood, even amongst adjacent players in the food supply chain. We will continue our engagement with government as they develop the new system, but this public consultation is an opportunity for any businesses that would like to add their singular experience to the mix. Submissions close on 15 November 2023.