A leading processor has said the ‘seriously bad press’ around red meat recently has contributed to the beef price crisis which has seen some farmers lose up to 50p per kilo on their produce.
Tom Kirwan, managing director at ABP UK, told MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that there was a ‘substantial change in consumer behaviour’ over the summer, with shoppers switching from beef to fish at record levels.
He called for AHDB to spend a greater percentage of its budget on promotion to ‘fight back’ against the negative press.
“For us, 2019 has been an exceptionally difficult year,” Mr Kirwan said.
“We have had a number of variables affecting the market. There has been, first, a decrease in demand from the UK consumer and, secondly, a 2 per cent increase in production.
“We were losing consumers during the summer. We also had to contend with seriously bad press, really having a go at the meat industry.
“We have a job of work to do to reverse that and maybe put a different perspective on it.”
NFU vice president Stuart Roberts echoed these concerns, but said it was time for the processors to ‘put their hand in their pocket’ and spend more getting out the positive messages associated with red meat.
“We know those who are arguing against us are doing it with phenomenal resources,” he told the committee.
“They are misinterpreting things. The fact UK cattle have a carbon footprint 2.5 times lower than the rest of the world gets ignored in the fog of fake news.”
Mr Kirwan went on to suggest the UK was not ‘performing badly’ when compared to other EU member states, with British farmers paid 27p per kilo more than the European average.
But he added processors were struggling to realise enough profit on by-products, with hides sold for leather car seats worth £20 a head less than this time last year because of the slump in the global automotive industry.
He also claimed a shortage of slaughter staff meant processors were killing fewer animals because they cannot get the meat de-boned.
But Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), who joined Mr Kirwan and Mr Roberts in giving evidence to the MPs, pointed out the beef crisis was not UK-specific.
“If you look at what is happening in the rest of the world, prices across Europe have dropped as well,” he said.
“Some money has disappeared out of the supply chain because the export values have dropped.”