BMPA updates, as they happen, on developing issues in the meat industry.
Contains links to member only content.
The labour shortage in the meat industry (and beyond) is turning into a big problem. The people and skills we need are just not available in sufficient numbers in the UK which means we’re imminently looking at having to close UK production lines and buy from overseas suppliers. Certainly not the kind of boost to British business that Government has been promising.
We’ve been speaking out in the media about how the problem has arisen and why there is no quick fix. The bottom line is that, if the Government doesn’t help by adjusting immigration rules, we’re heading for a brick wall in the run up to the busy Christmas period.
Not the most high profile piece of news to emerge this week, but this transcript of uncorrected oral evidence that was given to the House of Lords European Affairs committee on 9 June has some interesting comments on the costs and benefits so far of operating the Northern Ireland Protocol. Of particular interest to our sector are Senior Economist at Ulster University, Dr Esmond Birnie’s comments. We searched on ‘food’ to get straight to the relevant bits.
We’ve uploaded a report produced by the University of Cambridge for the Food Standards Agency around the rapid technological innovation that is reshaping the UK food system.
Six technology fields were identified and their implications for industry, consumers, food safety and the regulatory framework explored. They ranged from food production and processing including indoor farming and 3D food printing to novel sources of protein like insects and lab-grown meat. The report also looked into genomics for food safety applications as well as innovative packaging solutions and digital technology to support analysis, decision making and traceability in the food sector.
In the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget, Government has decided not to implement a recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change to aim for a 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption. Defra Minister, Rebecca Pow explained that while “food choices and improved farming practices have an impact on these [agricultural] emissions, well-managed livestock can also provide environmental benefits”.
She went on to say that the Government’s aim is to enable “farmers to optimise sustainable food production, reduce emissions from agriculture and allow consumer choices to drive those changes.” The Government is committed to developing a food strategy that will support the development of a food system that is sustainable, resilient and affordable, that will support people to live healthy lives, and that will protect animal health and welfare. Meat and dairy are a logical and necessary part of that system.
We know that the much reported ‘sausage war’ is somewhat of a red herring that distracts from the important, but less media-friendly issue of Export Health Certificates. The simple solution would be for the EU to agree to add an EHC that covers this kind of product. An even more elegant solution would be for the UK and EU to sign up to a Veterinary Agreement which would remove the need for a lot of this bureaucracy altogether.
Until a better solution can be worked out, the UK Government has formally requested a 3 month delay to the ban on shipments of chilled meat preparations to Northern Ireland. It looks likely that the EU will agree to this as long as Britain implements the NI Protocol in full. Also, there’s talk in The Times today of a potential solution involving labelling all products destined for Northern Ireland “for sale only in the United Kingdom”, although the EU would have to agree to this.
We’ve just published our assessment of how the Aussie trade deal will impact domestic producers. While a 45-times increase in access for Aussie beef is an obvious issue, the more concerning threat is the type and value of the cuts being imported.
There is growing talk of the need for a new environmental audit system in addition to the familiar financial audits for companies; and firms like EY are gearing up to administer this. But right now, we don’t have a sufficiently robust system of measurement and evaluation that can be agreed globally.
This was one of the game-changing things identified at a recent UN Food Systems Summit ‘Dialogue’ convened by Meat & Livestock Australia, Global Meat Alliance and the International Meat Secretariat. Given the prevalence in the media of spurious or misleading claims about the environmental footprint of meat, it’s important that there should be an unbiased nutritional / environmental index that takes into account human and planetary health as well as fully accounting for both sides of the carbon ledger. This would include both emissions and the carbon that’s taken out of the atmosphere and stored in grazing lands.
If people are to be guided to change their diets based on environmental measures, they must be given the net impact on both their health and the health of the planet.
The Food Standards Agency has published a number of annual updates on its working areas in advance of the next FSA Board meeting on 16 June. They include a science overview as well as updates on strategic priorities for FSA policy and regulation, their horizon scanning programme; and one on the implications of Covid-19 for the UK food system.
Responding to a petition signed by 1.4 million EU citizens, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly for a ban on the use of cages in animal agriculture by 2027, in a non-binding resolution passed on 10th June 2021.
Of significant note to meat exporters to the EU, Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told MEPs the Commission is considering a request contained within the resolution to apply the exact same animal welfare standards to meat imported from outside the EU as European farmers have to meet inside the bloc. And, while she didn’t commit to the 2027 date during the debate, she did say that the phase-out would happen “as soon as feasible.”
The Government has published advice setting out the UK’s new relationship with the EU. It explains what has changed, what remains the same and the role of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. They’re also running webinars from July to September on changes to the rules governing the importing of food and drink from the EU to Great Britain from 1 October 2021. HMRC has also posted a series of videos providing guidance for businesses involved in trade with the EU.
A golden opportunity has opened-up for twelve good men and women to have a say on how the Government formulates trade deals post-Brexit. The Trade and Agriculture Commission, an independent committee of specialists who will be scrutinising the UK’s new free trade deals, is seeking 12 new members.
As we’ve seen recently with the Australia deal, scrutiny by trade and industry experts is absolutely vital if we are to balance the interests of British businesses, producers and the public, and not inadvertently agree to things that could harm those groups.
Time is short, with applications closing on 23 June ’21. We would encourage any of our members to consider putting forward a candidate so the meat industry voice is represented on the new committee.
Defra has been running a new industry forum for all businesses within the agri-food supply chain that move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The NI-GB Food Supply Chain Forum aims to create a community for open discussion of issues affecting business. It will mainly focus on operational implementation issues and ensure the open communication of relevant policy and delivery developments associated with movements to and from Northern Ireland. Half hour weekly meetings are held every Thursday at 9am and anyone can register to join.
The UK Trade and Business Committee held an evidence session this morning to take testimonies from representatives from the veterinary, environmental, farming and poultry sectors. They gave evidence on the impacts of Brexit on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the EU.
It painted the most up-to-date picture of the extra costs and trade barriers so far and sounded a loud warning of worse to come at the end of this month if Government fails to agree new trading terms with the EU. Much of the difficulty exporters are having would be solved by forming a Veterinary Agreement which would instantly negate the need for most of the current bureaucracy and, at the same time, re-open the door in Northern Ireland and the EU to chilled meat preparations like sausages and mince.
We’ve been told repeatedly by a string of Government ministers that they have no intention of lowering British food standards. So, signing up to a veterinary agreement to keep standards the same (which the EU are saying can be temporary) shouldn’t pose any problem. Interestingly, senior American diplomat Yael Lempert knocked over another hurdle by stating that if Britain accepted demands to follow EU rules on agricultural standards, Biden would ensure that the matter “wouldn’t negatively affect the chances of reaching a US-UK free trade deal”.
In a new report published today, industry associations representing companies across the British food supply chain have joined together to propose an urgent new veterinary agreement and streamlined processes to resolve crippling restrictions to exports to the EU.
The new report contains details about the issues being faced, the impact they’re having and a simple solution that could be implemented quickly. In fact, Brussels has already indicated it is open to a new Veterinary Agreement that it says could be put in place temporarily while other solutions are explored. Without such an agreement, the situation in Northern Ireland (the so-called ‘sausage wars’) is about to get a whole lot worse.
As part of the EU’s Green Deal, European institutions are looking for solutions to reduce methane emissions from livestock farming and how to make agriculture more sustainable by moving to food production with a lower GHG footprint.
This free Politico webinar to be held on Tuesday 15 June at 11:45 – 1:00 will explore a range of solutions including policy tools like carbon credits, innovative feed, rewarding grassland, sustainability labelling and consumer awareness. Crucially it will ask: Is there a price tag attached to more sustainable food and farming, and if so, who will pay? Farmers, food producers, consumers? Finally it will explore how decision makers should use policy to shape farming practice and consumer habits where high greenhouse gas emissions are involved
Government is proposing a new Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging scheme which is intended to incentivise producers to design packaging that’s easy to recycle. It’s known as the ‘polluter pays’ principle and works by shifting the full net cost of managing this packaging once it becomes waste onto producers. Previously this would have been picked-up by central and local Government. The Consultation says this cost will be £2.7bn, but other sources estimate it at up to £3.5bn. And, the British Frozen Food Federation also caution that some costs could be open ended.
Today is the last day for submissions, and responses will help inform final policy decisions on key aspects of the scheme such as governance, recycling targets and implementation timelines. BMPA, along with other industry bodies are keeping a close eye on the outcome.
In one of his most candid commentaries to date, Nick Allen joined food service industry and food manufacturing guests on the latest Staff Canteen Podcast to discuss the proposals set out by Government to secure foreign trade deals, and whether food standards in the UK might improve or deteriorate as a result of such deals. The panel also explored what might be the knock-on effects for the supply chain from farmers and suppliers, to supermarkets, restaurants and the public.
Answering an urgent question in Parliament on the impact of the UK/Australia trade deal, International Trade Minister Greg Hands made some interesting, if not totally reassuring points.
Perhaps most interesting was his answer to a question posed by Stephen Farry who asked to what extent any trade deal with Australia would complicate, or even preclude a UK-EU veterinary agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary issues, “which surely should be a greater priority for the Government to assist UK food exporters and to address some of the tensions around the Northern Ireland protocol”. Mr Hands replied that there will be no change to our import standards as a result of the FTA.
We would add that such a veterinary agreement would be the single most important thing that Government could do to mitigate the permanent trade barriers that have been thrown up for British meat companies, and give them a chance of re-gaining millions in lost trade.
Also, contrary to the messages from UK farmers and producers, Mr Hands said that Government analysis ‘suggested any increase in (Australian) imports was more likely to displace food arriving from the EU than anything else’. He did, however say that ‘any agreement reached was likely to include safeguards to defend against import surges’. As we’ve written before, industry would like to know the detail to properly assess the effectiveness of such safeguards.
As a result of the UK’s exit from the EU, the ‘mutual recognition’ principle that allowed free movement of goods no longer applies. In its place will be new regulations that apply national UK standards to imported products from third countries (unless a free trade agreement exists with alternative or preferential market access rules).
While the change comes into effect on 17 June 2021, Government will be introducing a period of adjustment to allow meat businesses to prepare which ends on 12 December 2021. This is because current regulation covering meat products expires on 13 December. However, it is expected that this current regulation will be amended so it remains in force for longer, at which point the adjustment period will be extended to 30 September 2022.
If recent events surrounding the hastily put-together trade deal with Australia have taught us anything, it’s that Government should be fully aware of the potential to deal a crippling blow to British businesses by agreeing to the wrong compromises.
As the Department for International Trade embarks on new trade negotiations with three even bigger exporting nations (India, Canada and Mexico) they have asked for the industry view. BMPA will be putting the case again to Government but meat companies can add weight to the argument by submitting their individual accounts of the threats posed by agreeing to unfettered access to our markets. We would encourage you to have your say.
The Food Standards Agency is calling for comments on their proposed reforms to the current system of regulation. The aim is to enhance and modernise how they deliver Official Controls. It’s your chance to air any concerns and suggestions before the 23 July closing date.
They’ll be looking at how the new system could apply a risk-based approach to ensure accountability at the right level in the right place. They’ll also consider how the new model and technologies can deliver value for money, flexible resourcing, responsiveness and support on international trade.
It’s becoming alarmingly clear that the UK is suffering labour shortages across the board as the economy re-boots. The problem is particularly acute in our strategically important food supply chain, but industry warnings to Government have been falling on deaf ears.
To stem the exodus of skilled EU workers, we’re urging companies to encourage eligible workers to put in applications for the EU Settlement Scheme as soon as possible before it ends on 30th June. At the moment it is free to apply, but if you miss the deadline employers will need a sponsor licence to hire most workers from outside the UK. After this date if you’re business is found with someone without settled status both the company and the employee can be prosecuted.
There have been concerns over the UN Food System Summit being infiltrated by anti-meat lobbyists who are moving the dialogue away from reducing meat consumption towards removing livestock production altogether. To ensure the meat industry has a say, BMPA has created a submission that will feed-in to Defra’s national UN FSS dialogue and submission.
Defra has worked together with the Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) in Ireland to outline some tips for traders to help ensure that consignments of composite products using the Private Attestation can be processed at Irish Border Control Posts (BCP) as quickly as possible.
A new scheme has been announced this week that will enable employers will be able to claim £1000 for up to 20 T Level students they host on a 45 day (315 hour) industry placement, from now until July 2022.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee remains concerned that Britain’s food supply chain may not be able to secure sufficient labour for summer 2021 under the Government’s new immigration policy. The Committee expressed disappointment in the Government’s last-minute approach to finalising the details of its recruitment scheme for overseas seasonal workers. Separately, the deepening labour crisis in the food processing industry is gaining more attention in the national media with one paper predicting disruption to the Christmas trade.
The National Farmers Union has outlined five key questions that need urgent answers before it’s too late to change the details of the Australia free trade arrangement. They press the Government on safeguards for domestic agriculture; how the impacts of FTAs will be continually reviewed over time; what is the Government’s strategy to improve domestic productivity and competitiveness in light of new FTAs; when will the new Trade and Agriculture Commission be set up to scrutinise new trade deals; and what cumulative impact future trade deals will have if this first one sets the precedent.
In addition to the EFRA Committee’s calls for the urgent re-constitution of the Trade and Agriculture Commission in time to scrutinise the Australian trade agreement, an interesting exchange happened in the House of Commons yesterday as Emily Thornberry asked for reassurances that the Australian trade deal would not disadvantage British farmers and food standards.
She asked for three things: 1) A safeguard trigger similar to the ones Australia was willing to accept in its deals with Japan, China and the United States to protect British farmers against surges in cheap imports. 2) That zero tariffs will apply only to Australian products that meet the same standards that British farmers are required to meet on food safety, animal welfare and environmental protections. 3) A review clause so there is scope to amend if its impact on farmers is worse than already predicted.
Greg Hands assured her that safeguard triggers and review clauses are ‘typical of free trade arrangements’ and that current imports of Australian meat already comply with our standards.
Nick Allen spoke to BBC Farming Today this morning about the mounting labour and skills shortage that the British meat industry is facing which has been exacerbated by Brexit. As many in the industry know, it has been extremely difficult to attract British workers to a career in meat processing despite rising salaries. The shortfall in skills and labour has been filled by EU workers for whom this kind of work proves lucrative and satisfying.
Under the new immigration rules, that source of labour has dried up. And companies are reporting an increasing exodus of their EU workers who are opting to work for European companies. The effect has been that an increasing amount of high value processing work is being moved off shore and into European meat plants. Contrary to the Home Office’s claim that companies can now sponsor EU workers over a certain salary which ‘was not possible’ before we left the EU, we would point out that it ‘was not necessary’.
If the UK Government is about to open the doors to unlimited imports of Australian beef, then Industry experts need to be consulted urgently on the details of the trade deal (and we’re talking down to the exact types of products) before anything is signed. With no input from industry, UK negotiators could be building in vulnerabilities unwittingly, which will have very negative unintended consequences.
In a recent radio interview, BMPA’s Trade Policy Advisor, Peter Hardwick, explained eloquently the pitfalls of entering into such a trade deal. He talked about why the EU wouldn’t enter into a deal like this, because they value domestic food production, and also how high-end Australian product coming in the UK in bulk skims the top most profitable part off our home market. His insights are well worth a listen (from 3:33).
In a Times Radio interview this week former Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer stressed that Aussie meat companies would only be sending ‘high end cuts’ to the UK and not competing with British producers at the ‘low end’. While this might sound reassuring to the uninitiated, those in the know understand why a small volume of imported meat can have a disproportionately big effect on British companies. And it’s something our trade negotiators may have missed.
Peter Hardwick, Trade Policy Advisor at BMPA explains: “As an example, a 20 foot container load of beef with 17,000kg with a full range of meat cuts might represent the meat from just 60 animals. A similar shipment containing only boneless sirloins (high value) would have come from over 1000 animals. If it were fillet steaks it could be three times that number.
“It’s not the amount of meat by weight that matters it is the amount of high-end, high value cuts that will have a disproportional impact on the marketplace.”
A new AHDB report shows imports of fresh and frozen beef down 36% and exports down a hefty 65% year-on-year in March. You can read the more detailed breakdown by country, but one thing the report does highlight is that: “As of January 2021 data, the way HMRC collects trade data has changed, which will be reflected in the trade statistics. Comparisons between this and historic data should be treated with caution, and may well be subject to future revision”.
We understand that HMRC are now reporting UK to EU export data on the basis of customs declarations and not Intrastat forms (which used to be collected during the month that the goods actually moved), so this might lead to differences between dates of declaration and the actual physical movement of goods out of the country. This makes direct year-on-year comparisons more difficult and could mean a longer wait for accurate quarterly data. We’ll monitor how this plays out over time.
DEFRA has set out a series of policy initiatives to protect habitat and species in England, as part of its Nature for People, Climate and Wildlife policy paper. It includes amending the Environment Bill to require an additional legally binding target for species abundance for 2030. This will be achieved in part via Defra’s Environmental Land Management schemes, like the Sustainable Farming Incentive which will pay farmers for environmentally sustainable actions including creating carbon credits.
The Food Standards Agency has published a scientific report that looks at information and data from various countries around the world on the production processes for meat and poultry, and prevalence of several microorganisms. It was carried out to help better understand the international context of imports and the associated food safety control processes in place for products coming into the UK.
Researchers created profiles of sixteen countries, including the UK, featuring prevalence data for Salmonella, Campylobacter, E-coli, Trichinella and AMR, alongside descriptions of processes. FSA’s Head of Science Evidence and Research, Rick Mumford said that despite difficulties creating direct comparisons between countries “if meat is intended for export to the UK it must meet the UK’s import requirements, and this is not about to change”.
It’s a concern that the Government is taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to looming labour shortages in Britain’s strategically important food supply chain. The reality playing out on the ground is that meat companies are already short of skilled workers, with the first signs of disruption to food supplies now starting. A major obstacle to recruitment is that, despite higher wage offers, British people are generally reluctant to enter the industry, and available labour is often not situated in the right geographical location.
If we’re to avoid the inevitable disruption to food supplies coming down the track, we need Government to act now to put ‘Butchers’ on the Shortage Occupation List and add food and drink courses to the list of Level 3 adult courses eligible for the £95 m Lifetime Skills Guarantee. That way we can plug the skills gap short term with overseas workers while working to attract and train home-grown workers. This problem is about to get a lot worse across the whole food supply chain as the EFRA Committee have highlighted recently.