Continued improvements in the world economy make it more important
than ever for the UK to hold onto its important beef production capacity
and not let it be critically undermined by short sighted wholesale
and retail pricing policies which leave farmers facing persistent
long term losses.
So says the National Beef Association which is aware of a surprising
level of cross-industry agreement that in less than five years time
UK retailers and caterers may not be able to rely on imports to top
up national supplies and could also struggle to secure home produced
beef in the volume and quality they need.
“Two converging factors are already bringing unexpected urgency to the
possibility that the UK may face genuine beef supply pressures much sooner that
anyone had anticipated,” explained NBA chairman, Duff Burrell.
“One is global economic and political stability which is raising living
standards in developing countries at an unprecedented rate. If this continues
tens, even hundreds, of millions of new consumers could soon be joining the international
meat eating club and the pressure this would put on already thin world beef surpluses
would be enormous.”
“The second is the continued steady reduction in EU production which began
more than ten years ago and is creating an ever widening gap between supply and
consumption which some strategists are saying could soon become difficult to
fill – especially as the public appetite for beef in the EU is rising too.”
Other forecasters believe the potential for huge production increases in South
America, particularly Brazil, will always mean supply gaps can be filled.
But according to the NBA most of this additional output would be absorbed domestically
as birth rates rise and standards of living improve.
Furthermore there are estimates that, as long as the world continues to be stable,
both economically and politically, then by 2012 the only major producer with
an export surplus will be Brazil – and even that may not be enough to fill
the developing shortfall within the EU let alone meet the demands of millions
of new beef eaters among the emerging middle class in India and China.
“Just four years ago the UK government was saying self sufficiency was
not an issue. The National Beef Association is now making clear that it thinks
that view was premature,” said Mr Burrell.
“If more attention is not paid to holding up beef production levels in
the UK then the cost of that mistake will be carried by the public, not just
because they will have to pay much more for beef if they want it on supermarket
shelves, but also because the inevitable run down of the UK cattle herd in the
intervening period will result in unavoidable damage to bird populations and
rural landscape management.”
“There can be no doubt that many beef farmers, who already face recurrent
annual losses, will be forced out of production sometime over the next five years
unless they can earn at least 20 per cent more from the market than they do at
present – and the consequences will be felt for many years afterwards.”
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