NBA provokes anger amongst processors

Scottish meat processors have been incensed by the National Beef Association's claims that the "abattoir choke on beef prices has been broken".

Allan Jess, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, said: "NBA are talking utter nonsense and seem to be living on a different planet, It's a long time since the price of prime cattle was 230p a kilo. This statement from NBA is a blatant attempt to cause trouble and damage relationships between processors and producers which are, on the whole, very good."

He continued: "Comments like this are unfounded and unhelpful and do nothing for the reputation of NBA. The majority of abattoirs have an excellent relationship with their suppliers and have successfully built strong professional links throughout the rest of the food chain."

Jess believes the NBA would be better spending their time campaigning for measures under the CAP Health Check to increase production and secure a sustainable beef industry in Scotland in the future. He said that the reality of life in the meat sector at present was proving to be one of the most challenging periods for everyone involved in the meat chain, including producers and processors.

"Cattle supplies in Scotland are becoming tighter by the month. At the same time, price pressures at the consumer end of the meat chain are making it increasingly difficult for processors to maintain acceptable business margins," Jess said.

"The bottom line is that we've had a 7% reduction in calf registrations in Scotland between 2004 and 2007 with a very similar story for GB in total. It's no surprise, therefore, that supplies are currently very tight."

He continued: "How we begin to return the industry to a more balanced supply position is a less easy question to answer. As an Association we've made it clear throughout the year that some form of direct support must be given to producers to restore production levels to the sort of numbers we need to maintain a viable Scottish meat industry. The tighter supplies get the more compelling the case for direct support becomes. The CAP Health Check must address this issue as a matter of urgency.

"While industry, and politicians, work their way through the support question, however, producers face some big questions of their own over the next few weeks of breeding and store stock sales. A 7% reduction in production potential has already created a two to three-year period when supplies will be below what is needed to meet demand. Supplies must not be allowed to fall further if we're to retain critical mass within our industry from farm to plate as there will be many more losers than winners if we go down that road."

Jess's strong reaction followed a statement by NBA director Kim Haywood in which she said the day when abattoirs alone dictated terms and farmers took what they said about supplies and prices as gospel, was over.