27 August 2010 | Lindsay Clark
Farmers unions have warned buyers in the beef supply chain that the long-term sustainability of UK production is threatened by continuing low prices.
A year-long decline in the beef price has left farmers operating below the cost of production, a joint letter from the National Farmers Unions of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said.
It said: “We hear the right signals from the supply chain about the need to secure supply on a long-term basis, but the short-term approach currently being taken illustrates the market is failing to deliver. At current prices, beef producers will be unable to afford to produce beef this winter and some are starting to seriously question their future in the industry.”
The unions called on buyers in the beef supply chain to act to put into practice statements of support. “In order to install confidence and drive sustainability, the retailers and processers have got to start backing up their claims of commitment to UK beef farmers.”
Promotion in the retail sector had driven sales up this year, the unions said, but not the prices farmers are paid. “It is imperative the supply chain gives the right signals through long-term commitments to a sustainable price. This is the only way to give producers the confidence to go forward.”
The unions said they had seen some positive supply chain initiatives but these needed to go further.
“Producers must start to get a fair share of the retail price if they are to remain in production. Given a clear price commitment from the supply chain UK farmers can rise to the challenge of producing a quality product for the UK consumer.”
In response, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said: “Recent food price increases demonstrate supermarkets are not the all powerful, price setters some producer groups would have the public believe.
“Pushing up retail prices further would simply add to overall inflation and stifle demand for meat; the opposite of what farmers want. Supermarkets want and support a long term, sustainable domestic meat industry."