BMPA updates, as they happen, on developing issues in the meat industry.
Contains links to member only content.
17 hrs ago
The ‘Revocation and Reform’ bill currently making its way through Parliament which could see EU regulations on food safety repealed automatically before the end of next year is causing concern for the Food Standards Agency. Chairwoman Susan Jebb is worried that time is running out to “work through more than 150 pieces of retained EU law and…advise ministers on how best to incorporate important rules that safeguard food safety” into UK legislation.
More worryingly, Jebb also points out that “this is a very challenging task, and it inevitably means that we will have to deprioritise other important work.” We don’t know what other important work might suffer but it seems to be yet another colossal extra administrative burden on the system simply to replicate current legislation in large part.
18 hrs ago
The race to develop and commercialise an eco labelling system is on. But many voices from the British food and drink industry are sounding a note of caution. They worry that, in this haste to be first to market, the quality and integrity of the methodology and data will not accurately reflect the differences between two identical products produced in very different systems.
Key to developing a system that gives consumers an accurate comparison is whether it uses primary data (supply-chain specific, collected directly from UK farms and processors), or secondary data (using global or regional averages). IGD are currently developing a hybrid of this using secondary data that’s been refined to reflect a UK market but with the ambition of moving to primary data.
BMPA is part of a group of industry representatives who are actively scrutinising this approach. We need to ensure that flaws and inaccuracies that get built into the system at the beginning and could disadvantage meat producers simply because the metrics are wrong, are weeded-out and replaced with accurate measurements that people can rely on.
19 hrs ago
This week ABP unveiled their Prism 2030 program which will help farmers over the next two to three years to improve their on-farm sustainability and reduce the carbon emissions per kilo of meat.
Working with Harper Adams who will provide insight and recommendations and Andersons Consulting who will be carbon foot-printing farms and offering separate cost advice, the Prism program will be available to 350 farms initially. But the results and learnings that come from the early adopters will be shared with the wider industry through interest groups, knowledge exchange and support activities that will be running concurrently.
This week Chris Grayling MP asked Defra ministers whether it’s their policy to introduce sustainable food labelling in the UK. Of major interest to BMPA members, Mark Spencer MP responded that “We will work with stakeholders to create a common framework of metrics which the food and drink industry must follow when making voluntary information available to consumers regarding their food’s emission and sustainability claims. This mandatory methodology will be for participating companies to consistently follow, providing a common standard where eco-information is voluntarily used should they choose to include such information on their products.”
BMPA’s Sustainability Manager, Lucas Daglish is currently working across multiple stakeholders to help ensure that the methodology and metrics eventually adopted are not flawed and that they accurately reflect the sustainability credentials of British meat versus meat produced in different systems around the world. You’ll be hearing more about this in the coming months.
“I no longer have to put such a positive gloss on what was agreed…the truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return”. That was one of the bombshells Mr Eustice delivered in a speech to Parliament this week. And in a candid interview on The News Agents podcast he elaborated on just why the deal ended up being so bad, laying the blame squarely at the door of Liz Truss’ Department for International Trade.
It also transpired this week that he had sent a letter in June (leaked to the Financial Times) to the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, warning him not to allow the mistakes made during negotiations with Australia to be repeated with India. If similar concessions are made, the damage to the UK will be orders of magnitude worse.
Our warnings about the Australia deal went unheeded until it was too late. But this latest revelation about what goes on inside the negotiating tent has only galvanised our conviction that, like our trading partners do, our government needs to involve industry experts before they agree to any future trade deals. We recommend listening to the podcast, and also James Withers’ interview on Farming Today (at 5:04 minutes)
Listen from 21:25 minutes
It’s come as a welcome relief that Defra has agreed to postpone until 13 December 2023 the introduction of a new rule requiring all farmers to provide a vet-signed attestation confirming regular farm visits. They will have to comply if they want meat and products from their animals to be exported to the EU, which essentially affects most farmers.
Given the current shortage of vets, moving the start date was essential to give all farmers affected enough time to arrange these visits. But there’s more work still to be done, and BMPA along with other industry bodies is now looking forward to working with Defra to help design a suitable system to manage and implement these new requirements.
We need to define how the new vet attestations will be passed through the supply chain from farm to market to processor. And, if we’re to avoid having an unwieldy paper-based system, a new digital solution must be designed, developed and tested before December next year. We’ve posted Defra’s announcement of the date change on the Members’ Portal.
Last week, the Competition and Markets Authority issued an Initial Enforcement Order to consider whether Eville & Jones’ acquisition of Vorenta Limited “has resulted in a substantial lessening of competition” in the UK market.
The Order requires that, during the investigation period, E&J must maintain the organisational structure and management of the two businesses as they were prior to the merger. Essentially, they must continue to be run as separate, competing businesses, including any negotiations with existing and potential customers. No date has currently been set for the launch of the merger inquiry itself or for any subsequent decision.
Lord Wolfson, the boss of Next (widely seen as a barometer for the health of the UK economy) told the BBC this week: “We have got people queuing up to come to this country to pick crops that are rotting in fields, to work in warehouses that otherwise wouldn’t be operable, and we’re not letting them in. And we have to take a different approach to economically productive migration.”
It’s a message our industry, along with many others, has been pushing for a while, but the Home Office has steadfastly refused to put the right measures in place to adequately plug the gap in worker numbers where obvious shortages still exist. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that even staunch advocates of Brexit like Lord Wolfson are now publicly critical of the way Government has formed and implemented post-Brexit immigration policy.
We joined the live stream presentation of AHDB’s new five year strategy for the meat sector this week. The panels (which included Dovecote Park’s Laurie Ibbotson and Pilgrims’ Mark Haighton) elaborated on the thinking behind AHDB’s re-focusing of efforts towards priority areas for levy payers, in particular defending the reputation of meat and dairy, developing new markets and helping drive profitability and productivity.
It was clear that environmental issues will continue to have an impact on most priority areas, and AHDB recognises that a science-based approach to tackling misinformation and defending the credentials of British produce is absolutely essential. We think this is going to be particularly important in the race to develop an accurate and reliable system of carbon measurement and food labelling, which will have a material effect on farm and processing businesses. Over the coming months BMPA’s Environmental Manager Lucas Daglish will be engaging with AHDB on that and other priorities.
Since we first put out warnings about the impending rule change on 13 December that could see British meat exports become non-compliant overnight, we’ve had growing interest from the media as the clock ticks down. Reuters, The Financial Times, Bloomberg and several other media outlets have already contacted Defra to press them on why they’re introducing this post-Brexit, UK-only rule in such an impractically short time frame.
This week Evan Davis spoke to BMPA’s Nick Allen and NFU’s Abi Reader to discuss in depth the implications of this ‘deadline of doom’ as he put it for farmers and meat processors. The interview offers an excellent explanation of the problems involved, what damage could occur and what an alternative system and implementation timeline should look like.
Listen from 25:12 minutes
A final decision on which health scoring system should be used for front of pack food labelling in the EU has had to be delayed until mid 2023 after Italy again voiced concerns over the methodology and efficacy of the current front-runner, Nutri-Score. We’ve covered this previously, because getting this wrong will have far-reaching implications for for the health of nations.
We simply worry that an algorithmic system which can give a red-to-orange warning score to olive oil and a green health score to Coke Zero may need some further development before it’s unleashed onto the mass market and starts materially affecting people’s dietary choices. Fortunately, the EU Commission has recognised the importance and complexity of this decision and allowed itself more time for debate. We in the UK will be watching closely.
We heard reports this week of illegal meat imports being brought into the country, including 2.5 tonnes of pork. It was found in an incredible 21 out of 22 lorries singled out for checking at Dover port during just one 24 hour period. It illustrates just how vital the new sanitary and phytosanitary checks are that Defra instigated in response to the threat of African Swine Fever entering the UK.
This is one of those situations where the UK and EU are in perfect lockstep to combat a serious threat to food production across the region. These checks are part of a wider push to keep ASF from spreading. Indeed Denmark is currently constructing a fence along its borders to stop the movement of wild boar which carry the disease. The more we can prevent the movement of contaminated meat (both illegal and via travellers bringing in food) the better our chance of avoiding an outbreak.
We recently wrote to Defra Minister Mark Spencer to alert him to some new red tape his department is about to impose on 13 December 2022 which could see a huge amount of British meat exports to the EU become non-compliant overnight. If it goes ahead it will be yet another shot in the foot for the British economy with big unintended consequences for farmers, processors and consumers alike.
The new bureaucracy is a UK-only requirement – the EU has not demanded it. If Defra plough ahead with it, many farmers will be devastated and food prices will rise. Moreover, it would take over a year to be able to implement the new rule – we have 7 weeks.
So far, our warnings have gone unacknowledged and unheeded. Regardless of who the Defra Minister is by this time next week, the clock is ticking and we intend to do everything we can to avert the impending damage to the UK’s meat export market.
The Food Standards Agency has published a consultation on the proposed changes to the Food Law Code of Practice in England. The proposals include a new food standards risk rating scheme that Local Authority officers will use to evaluate the risk posed by a food business and a new decision matrix to determine the frequency at which food standards official controls should be delivered.
It’s hoped that the new model will give local authorities greater flexibility to use any of the official control methods and techniques available and direct local authority resource to where it is most needed to tackle risk in the food chain.
The Public Accounts Committee has published a report titled “Regulating after EU Exit”. One of the findings of the report was that “British food safety and competition regulators are “struggling to recruit and retain the skills they need to regulate effectively”. It said that the the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have struggled to hire enough vets and toxicologists to regulate food safety in British abattoirs and noted the lack of progress a long-term strategy for regulators.
The report says that each regulator “has since been asked (along with the rest of government) to model headcount reductions of up to 40%, which, if carried out, would make the current regulatory models unsustainable.”
It also noted that regulatory divergence between the UK and the EU, and within the UK internal market, risks increasing costs for businesses but also offers opportunities, depending on the approach taken. However those opportunities would most likely require legislation changes. Government will respond to the Committee’s recommendations within two months.
Some good news from HMRC this week. We’ve been arguing the point that reusable plastic crates shouldn’t be subject to the new Plastic Packaging Tax and, after reviewing information received from industry, they agree.
HMRC have said that they fall within the definition of transport packaging, which means they are exempt from PPT when imported filled with goods into the UK. However, they are not exempt from the tax when they’re manufactured in the UK or imported unfilled. Updated guidance can be found on GOV.UK.
We’ve also posted information in the Members’ Portal on how you can amend your tax return to get a refund if you’ve previously accounted for reusable plastic crates on a PPT return where they were used to import goods into the UK.
FSA meat inspectors, vets and office staff are to be balloted on strike action on 31 October. If strikes go ahead, it has the potential to bring a lot of the meat supply chain to a standstill because, without Meat Hygiene Inspectors and Official Veterinarians, animals cannot be slaughtered, and meat cannot be released and sent for sale in UK shops or for export.
Because of the geographical spread of abattoirs and meat processing plants, along with the specialised nature of the job, it won’t always be possible for FSA to re-direct non-striking staff to where they’re needed. A sheep or cattle expert in one location can’t simply be seconded to a pig or poultry processor in another part of the country. To make matters worse, we already have a shortage of people in these posts due to the labour crisis.
The choice of timing for the strikes will also cause maximum damage to the whole domestic and export supply chain. Not only will it disrupt Christmas supplies to shops when volumes are at their highest during the year, but it has the potential to cause a serious animal welfare problem on farms if processors simply can’t take any animals due to the absence of a vet. If it goes ahead it will hurt the FSA, processors, consumers, farmers and animals alike.
As part of the Digital Assistance Scheme to support the continued movement of agri-food goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in line with the Protocol, Defra are running a trial to test a new eCertification for Export Health Certificates (eEHC) service. Trials involving around 50 businesses are resuming after a few delays, and testing is also happening on movements to France, Ireland, Belgium, with Spain and Denmark also looking to take part.
Defra have shared with us their ‘prerequisites guidance’ which describes what companies must check before they opt-in to the trial. It’s detailed and gives you a good picture of what to expect. This kind of user testing is vital to uncover and fix any bugs and flaws. Defra are keen to sign up more companies to do live testing so they can gather on-the-ground feedback, which will help them develop the system prior to its wider roll-out.
BMPA recently submitted evidence to the Commons EFRA Committee’s call for evidence on threats to the UK’s food security. Our members rely on a thriving UK livestock sector. Indeed some members are also farmers, so it was important to get our concerns across loud and clear to help shape future Government priorities and policy.
The inquiry looked into supply chain disruption from such diverse causes as food availability, UK food sovereignty and imports, the pandemic, the Ukraine war, labour shortages, Brexit and our relationship with the EU and input costs such as energy and fertiliser. You can read our responses in the Members’ Portal.
This week saw the publication of the Government’s response to the Commons EFRA Committee report on the Australia free trade deal. It’s fair to say that the Committee wasn’t reassured and has since written to the new Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Defra Minister Ranil Jayawardena to ask that the Government delay ratifying the deal and ‘review and update’ their official response.
Readers will be familiar with the concerns over the deal by now (it could allow lower standards and potentially crippling quotas to come into the UK). They will also know that the graver concern is that UK trade negotiators will cave in to such one-sided deals with much bigger food producing countries like India, Brazil and the US, putting even more pressure on British producers.
AHDB’s new ‘Feed the Family for Less with Pork’ campaign goes live on 17 October for six weeks. It will raise awareness of the economical cuts of pork such as shoulder, sausages, and mince that can be used to create healthy family meals for 4 for under £5. Consumers will see the campaign online, across social media, during on-demand TV shows, in the aisles and online at 8 supermarket chains.
A new research study is getting underway in Queensland, Australia to test the effectiveness of water-based additives that reduce the amount of enteric methane that cows emit. Until now, most additives have been feed-based, limiting the ability to apply it a herd level.
Lab results have been encouraging and, if it performs as well out in the field, David Messina, MD of Rumin8 who have developed the additive, says that “it could provide an opportunity for pasture-fed beef production systems to reduce methane emissions”.
In her speech to the Conservative Party conference this week, the Home Secretary said there should be “absolutely no reason why we can’t train up enough of our own HGV drivers, butchers and fruit-pickers”. However, this is not an ideal world and there are several reasons why it’s simply not practical to fill all of these kinds of vacancies with workers from the UK.
If the Government wants to nurture a robust and secure domestic food supply chain, they will need to accept that a proportion of vacancies will need to be filled by foreign workers who are prepared migrate to where the work is. Simply announcing that we should be able to train UK workers won’t fix the labour crisis if those workers, for whatever reason, don’t want to take up those jobs. We’ve explored a couple of the main reasons that prevent us from recruiting British workers in our latest article.
AHDB’s We Eat Balanced consumer marketing campaign has got off to another successful start this autumn. Aiming to protect long-term consumer attitudes to British meat and dairy, as part of a healthy and sustainable diet, the campaign has achieved 5 million impressions and over 800,000 video views so far in its first full week. Adverts are being aired on ITV, Sky and Channel 4, with supporting press and media activity in the national newspapers, online and in all the major retailers.
Defending British standards and protecting our market against imports produced to different standards is a cause for concern as the UK continues to negotiate new trade deals. It’s widely thought that we gave away too much in the Australian deal and, if future deals follow the same kind of path, it will get worse for British producers, particularly if we’re in a rush to get them ‘done by Diwali’.
For an in-depth, technical discussion on how future trade deals could be approached to mitigate the damage to our domestic producers, set aside some time to read Economist, Derrick Wilkinsons piece from last year. It’s pertinent now we have a new Defra minister who was involved in those trade negotiations during his time at the Department of International Trade.
AHDB’s retail and consumer insight team are hosting two webinars in October covering consumer demand for red meat and dairy and reputational issues across the industry. With the looming cost-of-living crisis, consumer behaviours are changing rapidly, but what impact does this have on the industry? Webinars will be held on the 13th and 20th of October.
Speaking on the Sky News daily podcast last week Nick Allen, along with other guests representing all parts of the supply chain from farm to fork, gave some concerning insights into the cost pressures facing Britain’s food industry. Everything from energy to Co2 gas has risen in price which is feeding through into food price inflation.
But the most difficult issue to deal with is the on going and chronic labour shortage here in the UK. Meat companies simply cannot find enough UK workers to fill vacancies, which is why mention of overhauling the post-Brexit immigration system by Liz Truss recently has offered a potential life-line to struggling companies both in our sector and others. Nick explains the issues.
Listen from 6:23 minutes
From 1 October 2022, businesses will need to make all their import declarations using the Customs Declarations Service. However, Defra have said that they understand that some traders may not be able to migrate in time. If they can demonstrate a clear business reason, Defra will allow CHIEF badge holders to seek permission for a short extension to use CHIEF beyond 30 September.
As far as we’re aware, wholesalers have managed to secure Co2 supplies for the next month from European suppliers, albeit at much higher prices and from a tightening market. So, the needs of the meat industry should still be met. And, while Billingham will no longer be producing the gas, Ensus is expected to resume production of Co2 around 10 October which will further relieve pressure on supplies.
Meanwhile, the high price of Co2 is attracting more players into the market who can capture the gas as a bi-product of their manufacturing processes. The hope is that, as alternative sources come on stream, it will change the Co2 supply landscape and hopefully make it more secure, so crises like this are less likely to happen in the future.
To get a better understanding of the vulnerabilities in the Co2 supply chain, Defra has put out a ten minute survey asking businesses to voice their challenges and issues. It only runs to 3 October 2022 so we’d encourage you to get your answers in to help build the picture for Government.
Following the pig sector labour, skills and education workshop last week, we’ve uploaded the presentations (tailored to our segment of food production and manufacturing) that were given by the Department for Education on the National Careers Service, T Levels and apprenticeships . We’ve also included contact details and links to other resources like the Skills Campaign Toolkit and guidance on apprenticeship funding.
We have now been informed by Defra that proposed Strike action at the SIVEPs of Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk, who are responsible for SPS checks on goods going into France, will no longer be going ahead. Defra issued this short announcement: “French Officials have informed Defra that following a meeting with trade unions the proposed strike action at the SIVIPS of Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk will no longer take place.”
After requests from BMPA and from the Government’s own Animal Welfare Committee, The Food Standards Agency has made available a guidance video on animal welfare enforcement which has been created by APHA and is targeted at all Official Veterinarians. Meat companies will now be able to better understand what is involved and what is expected of them.
To access the video you will need to log onto the FSA secure Digital Asset Management System. If any members have any difficulty logging on or accessing the video, we’ve posted some instructions on the Member Portal.
BMPA has just published a new report which explains why we think Defra’s consultation into contracts in the pig sector focuses on too small a part of what is one of the most complex food supply chains you’ll find (we’ve got an eye-opening diagram to illustrate just how complex it is).
In its current form, the consultation will leave Defra with insufficient information on which to base decisions, running the risk that well-intentioned changes to the system could backfire. We are therefore asking Defra to let us help provide the full picture by consulting more widely with processors who sit at the centre of the pork supply chain.
Nick Allen will also be appearing in an interview about this on BBC’s Countryfile this Sunday 25 September at 6pm.
We need to clarify something we reported on in our last Weekly Update. We explained the concerns being voiced by members that the recent acquisition of Vorenta Group by Eville & Jones effectively reduces the choice of companies providing Official Veterinarians and Export Health Certification services to English and Welsh abattoirs.
We need to stress that E&J are not the only company that provides those services. However, they are the biggest, and they continue to hold the sole contract for the delivery of Official Controls in approved meat and dairy establishments in England and Wales on behalf of the Food Standards Agency. It’s for this reason we’re concerned that their recent acquisition of Vorenta, which they describe as diversification, has taken out the only company of sufficient size and resources to be able to offer any major competition for the provision of OVs and EHCs to the meat industry.
Perhaps it comes down to a simple difference in interpretation where one person’s diversification is another’s consolidation. Either way, it’s got our members concerned.
BMPA recently wrote to Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet to challenge its Global Burden of Disease study and to ask him to remove it from the publication. We, along with numerous eminent scientists are concerned that incorrect information is being used to influence people’s dietary choices and public health policy. We received a reply from the Lancet this week saying they wish to publish our letter and will be asking for a formal response from the study’s authors. We’ll continue to report on our progress.