British beef and lamb production needs to rise, says Eblex

Production of British beef and lamb needs to increase before the meat industry loses out on the growing opportunities being opened up to it on the global export market.

Jean-Pierre Garnier, export manager of red meat levy body Eblex, said demand for beef and lamb had outstripped supply, thanks to booming exports of British meat.

And unless British farmers responded to the market demands, they faced missing out on an opportunity to establish themselves as suppliers of excellent-quality meat products to the global market, he warned.  

“Beef and sheep meat exports are showing good growth, both now and in the longer-term,” Garnier told delegates at the Eblex annual conference in Warwickshire on Tuesday (5 November).

From January to August this year, sheep meat exports from the UK were up by 15%, with exports to France – one of the UK’s major export markets – up by 3.8% to 34,324 tonnes (t).

Meanwhile exports to China in the same period had increased by 231% to 7,856t, while Norway had increased its imports of UK lamb by 115% to 2,656t.

But that exceptional growth could not be maintained unless UK producers adapted their businesses to produce more, Garnier said.

“We didn’t have enough lambs to export to the European market this spring, meaning we were short in supply to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. We shouldn’t think that keeping the market in short supply is the answer to higher prices,” he added. “We should produce it properly and sell it.”

Garnier said some of the growth had been thanks to New Zealand sending more of their lamb to China, meaning there was less competition for UK lamb in the European market. But new export markets for UK lamb were also opening up, he added. “We have many more markets available to us, such as Russia,” he said. “We have one plant approved in Russia and a second one will follow next year.

“The UK is also approved for exports to the Saudis and we hope to export our first lambs next year. Our message to lamb producers is please produce more, because we don’t have enough to satisfy those markets.”

British beef exports had seen similarly successful growth over the previous year, with supplies of premium cuts in particularly short supply, he added. The horsemeat scandal had driven up demand for home-produced beef in the UK, meaning the export market had been limited.

To fulfil the demand for quality British beef, Garnier said producers should think more carefully about optimising all parts of the carcase. “We need to create the right product for the export market,” he told delegates. “The fifth quarter is a very important part of that. We need to step up the harvest of offal, so the product is the best possible and we can get the best prices. “

The UK would export about 85,000t of offal in 2013 and there was potential to grow the market even more, which was excellent news for the industry, he added. “Volumes and values of offal exports are growing, particularly to Asia and Africa, but it doesn’t stop there for British beef and lamb.

“We have access to 69 countries and territories for lamb and 65 for beef. If we can produce the right volumes of quality product, the markets are there for us to take advantage of.”