SAMW sets targets for 2016

An improvement in end-product prices is on the agenda for Scotland’s meat wholesalers in 2016, as well as an upgrade in the way the government applies regulatory burdens.

“The past 12 months have been tough on prices and challenging in relation to new regulations, a combination which has added to business pressures for member companies,” said Alan McNaughton, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).  

“Thankfully, product quality from Scotland remains strong in the main, underpinning the Scotch premium, without which the pressures would have been even more severe in 2015. The healthy, largely assured and beef-bred production of meat and Scottish farms remains central to our industry’s hallmark for quality and must be guarded and protected by us all.”

McNaughton said the industry needed to pay close attention to quality issues and demands in the coming year, as both issues came to surface during the course of 2015 regarding a farming and processing debate over livestock specification requirements, on top of discussions surrounding livestock movements.

“In each case, I believe we established good mutual understanding of how and why specification and movement demands have an impact on end-product values,” continued McNaughton. “Frankly, once retailers lay down an agreed set of requirements, we either meet them as producers and processors or we give up and do something else.”

He said that senior SAMW representatives took part in recent farmers’ meetings to “freshen the specification method”, despite demands not actually changing that much over the years.

“Since those meetings, we have seen some improvements but are still frustrated when cattle which could so easily have been better prepared, still arrive to be processed as they are, non-spec’ factors included. We do, however, recognise that our members have a part to play in encouraging Scottish producers in this respect. It is inevitable that price penalties will be more targeted if out-of-spec’ cattle continue to be presented at abattoirs.”

Ultimately, said McNaughton, it is an “effort and income” issue. Although some producers are hitting both targets, there are those who are not.

Regarding the animal movement debate, some areas are still not clear. This largely concerns what the actual definition of farmer-to-farmer movement is. McNaughton pointed out that some retailers had higher demands on this than others.

However, he highlighted that there had been positive developments in the Scottish meat wholesale industry: “With 2015 having brought the introduction of Food Standards Scotland (FSS), there has been an improvement in some key areas of meat sector management. Not all issues have been easy to address, however, with the need for clear plant level communication remaining a priority issue as we move into 2016. Good plant level communication is crucial for processors and regulators alike as we seek together to secure the best outcome for the whole meat chain, especially consumers.”

According to McNaughton, the FFS was “dealt a very poor hand” by the government regarding the way EU legislation on the implantation of worker certificates of competence (CoC) ought to be applied to the meat sector. “By deciding to blindly follow the EU letter of the law, without sufficient thought as to how that might affect the practical workings of our industry, the UK’s implantation of CoCs left a lot to be desired.”

This left SAMW members feeling frustrated due to established and experienced plant workers needing to secure the newly introduced certificates just to prove that they could keep on doing their job.

“We have no problem whatsoever with plants, people and processes being properly structured and managed, but the CoC issue was very badly handled,” added McNaughton. “As a result, the CoC process grew arms and legs as the year progressed, driven on by some excessively poor advice from training bodies in the south of England, which were clearly not moderated by government. All we’re getting as a result is increased cost, not increased competence.

“As we move into 2016, therefore, it is very much with the hope that prices will deliver a fair return for all along the supply chain; spec’ delivery will become consistently better and that those who are responsible for implementing UK and EU legislation will take time to look at how good our industry already is, and how it operates, rather than seeking the next ‘gravy train’ to keep themselves in work.”

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