Action needed on livestock numbers
Published:  15 May, 2008

The Scottish government and retailers have been urged to tackle the rapid decline in Scottish livestock numbers, and secure a future for the country's meat industry.

The demand comes as meat processors warned at their annual conference that their plants faced being starved of supplies soon unless action is taken.

SAMW president Allan Jess said more had to be done to stimulate livestock production, especially with food security becoming a greater issue and the government launching a food policy stressing the need for Scots to buy more local produce. He called on retailers to pass back to processors and farmers prices that put confidence into the livestock sector and allowed profitability.

Jess said the government had a key role to play in using the European Commission's upcoming review of the Common Agricultural Policy to press for subsidy changes and for more cash to go back to livestock producers.

Jim McLaren, president of NFU Scotland, said targeting money at livestock is worthless without money coming back. He said the only way of guaranteeing future supplies would be in farmers being paid realistic prices that allowed them to operate profitably.

Alan Craig, senior vice-president of SAMW, said: "Prices have started to rise but not enough. It is a psychological hurdle. It's not so much a rise in meat. At the moment fuel prices are a lot more of a problem."

Regarding food-price inflation, consumers only spend around 11 per cent of their disposable income on food.

Quality Meat Scotland chairman Donald Biggar said supermarkets also had to end their reluctance to putting up the price of cheap, discounted meat products such as mince, saying a price improvement there would deliver considerable benefits to the whole meat chain as it would improve carcase values.

Biggar also said farmers should not be ashamed to go and ask for price increases as in retail terms the cost of beef over the last 30 years had risen by only 8%, against the 30% seen in the general retail price index and 16% recorded for food in general.

That point was also stressed by McLaren who said while the media was making much of increased food prices and the impact they were having on the economy the reality was that in most instances the actual cost of food had not yet gone up.

Biggar, said: "Food price inflation is almost irrelevant in the UK. About 10% goes on food but most of it goes on packaging."

With the beef herd at the last December census declining to a record low of 470,000, Biggar said the situation was deeply worrying.

"My biggest concern is that while cow numbers have dropped 11% over the last 10 years, the forecast for the next few years is for a further 9% fall," he added.

"That is alarming and worrying. We need to be getting signals back to the producers that they are necessary so that we can retain a critical mass in the livestock sector."

Sheep numbers in December also showed the breeding ewe flock falling below 3million for the first time.