Ben Barnett: Bringing beef 'back from the brink' needs a properly informed public

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“Let’s be absolutely clear – the sustainability of UK beef production is at stake here,” a dire warning issued jointly by the UK farming union presidents at this week’s Royal Welsh Show.
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In the face of the lowest farmgate prices for beef in years, caused by an oversupply of beef on the market, industry leaders called for action across the supply chain – from farmer to retailer and food service sector – in order to “bring the UK beef industry back from the brink”.

The answers? An “intense” and “co-ordinated” period of product promotion to help stimulate demand for “safe, high quality, fully traceable Red Tractor beef”; new export markets; clear country of origin labelling for all beef products; an urgent government review of public procurement commitments to UK sourcing, and governmental action to understand and act up the impacts of a €100m cash boost for Irish beef farmers from the European Commission.

For obvious reasons, it has perhaps not been the easiest week to get the Government to absorb those messages and act, but another key ‘ask’ of the union presidents was for industry levy bodies to drive increased awareness of the values behind UK beef production, and this was a topic that was firmly grasped in The Yorkshire Post this week by farmer Richard Findlay.

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The National Farmers’ Union livestock board chairman told of frustration about how the environmental contribution of British beef production is being portrayed in the hotly debated issues of the environment, emissions and climate change.

It is worth repeating here, partly to chip away at the misinformation, that British beef production’s carbon footprint is widely different from what it is in other parts of the world.

British beef production is two-and-a-half times more efficient than the global average, grazing pastures store carbon and animal welfare standards here are among the most highly stringent in the world.

At a crisis point for beef production, the last thing the industry needs is shoppers to act on false and irresponsible portrayals.