Shrinking UK Beef Industry in Danger of Disappearing

UK - UK beef production is about to plunge to its lowest level since records began, the National Beef Association (NBA) has warned.
calendar icon 31 March 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

And it is set to sink faster and further after reductions, already recorded in breeding herd numbers over 2006-2008, show up in additional falls in abattoir prime cattle throughput over the next three years.

“Many breeders and feeders continue to be disappointed with the market value of their cattle compared with production costs and this is demonstrated by the relentless year on year decline in the UK’s beef cattle count as well as the disproportionate number of females currently being dumped into the slaughter system instead of being kept back for breeding,” explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.

“The Association has no doubt that if this destructive momentum is maintained the UK beef industry will find itself seriously short of both breeding cattle, and domestically produced beef, well before the end of 2011.”

“This makes it inevitable that its most basic structures will be jeopardised and it will soon have no chance of producing enough beef to meet domestic retail needs.”

However, unlike many of its members, the NBA is optimistic about the future of the UK industry, as long as there are immediate checks in the number of heifers pushed towards the abattoir instead of being put in with the bull - and the number of fully fertile cows being culled out also eases.

“Realistic pessimism has its place, but when pessimism is unfounded it becomes self-destructive. There has already been an over-adjustment in cattle numbers in response to the disappointing income returns of recent years. Fortunately these have already provoked much more realistic slaughter cattle prices which should continue to improve as months, and years, move on,” said Ms Haywood.

“Beef farmers should take note of this exaggerated reaction and set out to correct it. Total UK cattle numbers, both beef and dairy, have fallen below ten million head for the first time ever and because there was yet another reduction in beef cow numbers over 2008, this time by 2.6 per cent, further falls in output lie ahead.”

“However it is the fall in breeding heifer replacement numbers that rings the biggest alarm bells. There can be no doubt current levels of prime cattle production are being propped up by a surge in heifer slaughterings that is diverting too many suitable animals from the breeding herd.”

“This year’s UK abattoir throughput figures show that while male cattle numbers are down by around eight per cent, heifer slaughterings rose by two per cent and in England and Wales the number of heifers killed was up by an alarming eight per cent.”

“It is all to clear that thousands of heifers that could become useful breeders are being cashed instead. The industry cannot continue to kill off its seed stock on this scale. The only possible result is a progressively serious shortfall in domestically produced beef from this year onwards and a simultaneous collapse in veterinary, transport, auction and abattoir structures too,” Ms Haywood added.

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