Fifth quarter’s positive and versatile role

Dr Phil Hadley's blog articlesFifth quarter has increasingly made the headlines in recent weeks, from both an economic and ecological perspective.

Anecdotal evidence has suggested that increasing use of fifth-quarter products – such as heart, liver, feet and tripe – is helping to cut the carbon footprint of producing a kilo of beef by around a quarter. Export figures from January to March 2014 also highlighted a 25% increase in the volume of UK beef offal exports.

The carbon footprint reduction has been driven in the last four years by new animal by-product (ABP) regulations and increased export opportunities, helping boost consumption of red offals and edible co-products (ECP), as well as soft bones and tendons. With an expanding export market, opportunities have substantially increased for the use of ABP.

Until relatively recently, the majority of fifth-quarter products struggled to find a viable market domestically. The new ABP regulations and development of new export markets have presented the industry with an opportunity to more fully utilise the carcase, while reducing its environmental impact.

Today, for example, the larger abattoirs sell the majority of their fifth-quarter products either directly to the home market or vacuum-packed or frozen to the export market, rather than disposing of these products for rendering or pet food.

The industry has also benefited from a reduction in percentage of the weight of material from live cattle, classified as Specified Risk Material (SRM). Coupled with Eblex’s ongoing strategy to help secure access to new export markets, the figures are moving in the right direction in terms of volumes and values, while helping to improve efficiencies and reduce waste in the supply chain.

Anecdotally, figures have shown that the average percentage by weight of a live bovine animal being consumed by humans has increased from around 38% in 2006 to 48% in 2012. During the same period, the average percentage of a sheep or lamb being consumed rose from 46% to 53% of the live weight of an animal.

Since 2006, the percentage of product being sent as Category 3 ABP for use as biofuel and pharmaceuticals, for example, has also increased to approximately 20% for cattle and sheep, rather than being rendered as Category 1 ABP.

Historically, only carcase meat was included in carbon footprinting calculations. Even when the tallow was used to produce energy, the meat still received no offset credit from the energy generated. With an increase in the availability of offals and ECPs for human consumption, it has subsequently meant that more meat could be included in carbon footprinting calculations. According to Eblex, with an additional 10% of the liveweight of a bovine animal being consumed by humans in 2012, compared to 2006, the carbon footprint of the production of a kilo of beef has effectively fallen by approximately 25%.

UK exports of red bovine and ovine offal have increased in terms of both volume and value between 2009 and 2013. Beef fifth quarter export values increased from £880 per tonne (/t) to £1,230/t during the period, while the value of exports of sheep meat fifth-quarter product rose from £890/t to £1,180/t.

Recent figures are also encouraging, with demand from emerging markets helping to drive a 25% increase in the volume of UK beef offal exports in the first quarter of 2014. Interestingly, non-EU trade accounted for more than 30% of the 9,000t of product shipped in the period – double what it was four years ago. Significantly, the value of the trade in the first three months of the year was worth £12.4m – up 45% on the same period last year - and more than double its value for the same period in 2010.

While trade is still dominated by exports to other EU member states, demand from Africa and the Far East has intensified, presenting further opportunities. With the unit value of fifth-quarter products increasing over recent years, it is clear how important this segment of the market is, not only in helping improve the industry’s environmental credentials through reducing waste, but also in delivering returns to the UK industry.

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