Global Outlook

Most people are still getting used to our shiny new Coalition Government and don't envy them the task of dealing with the huge problems facing our country. The civil servants have been busy and our own Defra promptly published its Structural Reform Plan or SRP, which set out three priorities: support British farming; encourage sustainable food production; and enhance the environment and support the green economy.

All very well, but it struck me as being a bit light on the food supply side. The 'f' in Defra does stand for food and this has to be safe, adequate and affordable in any civilised society. There is already a tidal wave of consumer comment about huge food price increases in recent months, with the forecast of a lot more to come.

Historically, meat and poultry prices here have been maintained at realistic levels by the gentle inflow of imported product. The Southern Hemisphere countries supplied us with 42,700mt of beef last year. This may sound a lot, but it represented only 11% of our total supplies. Lamb is a different story, with 37% imported, mainly from New Zealand and Australia. But this balances out the similar tonnage of UK sheepmeat product that was exported last year.

The import trade serves a myriad of customers from container-loads of single cuts going to some, down to a couple of cartons to others. These imports help to reduce the demand/supply imbalance, which has always been a part of the meat situation here. We have a greater appetite for lamb legs, chicken breasts and certain beef cuts than arise naturally from the whole animal. This is worth repeating to any official who will listen.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "It doesn't take the brains of the Prime Minister to work that one out!"

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