HALTING THIS CREEPING DRIFT

The fear that the meat industry might be "drifting into oblivion" might be seen as a little over-the-top but, as a wake up call to everyone in the industry, it cannot be ignored.

The change to our subsidy system has been significant, and while in the long term, having farmers who are producing what the market needs, rather than what EU red-tape dictates, has to be a good thing.

However, to fail to address the fact that farmers are struggling at such a significant time could have a serious impact on our industry in the future. Farmers need to be able to stand on their own two feet, regardless of the subsidy payments.

Prices do need to rise, and have been rising steadily in recent months, but that in itself poses a danger.

While everyone in the industry will welcome a boost to their margins, with the atmosphere of cheap food and the overall low price culture created by the multiples, any upwards surge in price has to be managed carefully to avoid putting off consumers accustomed to low cost produce.

A recent story in the Sunday Times highlights just how sensitive the situation is. Headlines such as "beef more expensive than foie gras" and prices being described as "rocketing" are not likely to help the consumer perception or paint a true picture. If beef is seen as an expensive luxury, we could easily see a decline in consumption.

This, combined with the fact that farming leaders are warning we may see producers abandon the middle ground in favour of high-value, premium niche production, could have a devastating impact on our production base. It is in our interests to have healthy, vibrant production across all sectors. Whether that is possible, is down to everyone in the industry.

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