Graham Bidston, chief executive, the National Federation of Meat & Food Traders

The title of the old pop song Wishing and Hoping would be a good theme for the industry to adopt in 2007: wishing for better returns for all the hard graft put in and hoping that there are no food scares that would make that aim more difficult.

For butchers, the past year has seen something of a renaissance, as surveys continue to show that customers are trickling back to independent traders. But there is a need to attract more young people and to offer them a sound training basis if that upturn is not to be stifled.

The Federation's apprenticeship scheme is addressing some

of this need but, on its own, there is a limit to what it

can achieve.

There is no doubt that the political pressure to cut down on food miles is encouraging an increasing number of consumers to seek out locally sourced food and butchers are in a favourable position to satisfy that desire. However, that can only be achieved if there is a sufficient spread of slaughterhouses and, a year on from the start of the new EU hygiene regime, most businesses seem to have adjusted well to the requirements.

Having said that, almost half of UK slaughterhouses or cutting plants are still waiting to receive formal approval from the authorities, which is surprising given that they were trading quite hygienically prior to the change and the new rules were designed to be less prescriptive.

One of the main hopes is that the early part of the year will see the EU Commission taking a decision to lift the restriction on the sale of beef on the bone from cattle aged over 24 months. In the UK, there are no food safety implications for last year's reintroduction of the ban, which is only due to a piece of outdated European legislation. This is having the unnecessary effect of restricting consumer choice and has distorted the market for traditional meat supplies.

Just like the ant that was trying to move the rubber tree plant, one can only hope. But knowing how the European Goliath works, don't lay bets on it.

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