Future of Organic beef put under the spotlight

The future of the British organic beef market will be discussed today at the Soil Association's Organic beef conference which is being held together with the Eastbrook Farm, Graig Farm Producers and the Organic Livestock Marketing Co-operative (OLMC)


The event aims to discuss key themes from the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF)/Soil Association 'The UK Market for Organic Beef' report which showed that demand for organic beef is growing rapidly and supermarkets cannot source enough British produced organic beef to meet consumers needs.

The conference, led by Helen Browning, food and farming director of the Soil Association, will include ideas on increasing sales through the supermarkets (which accounts for 63% of total organic beef purchases), identifying new marketing channels, providing what the consumer wants and making better use of resources to increase profitability.

Speakers at the event, which is taking place at Stareton Hall, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, will include Bob Bansback, director of the RMIF, Huw Bowles, finance and operations director at Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative (OMSCo), Simon Tomlinson, chairman of the OLMC and Karen Schenstrom, fresh food manager at Sainsbury's.

A Soil Association spokesman said: "The public increasingly expects the organic beef they buy in supermarkets to be British.

"At the same time the English Organic Action Plan aims to increase supermarket reliance on UK production and has identified beef as one of the 'staple products' which could and should be produced here."

Browning said the conference had come at a crucial time for UK organic beef production, particularly with the significant changes taking place in the beef sector following the modifications to the farm support system.

"Recent market research indicates that there is real potential in the organic beef market. However, we will need greater commitment and co-operation across the beef supply chain to overcome some of the significant barriers that currently exist to expansion," she said.

She added that the conference would seek to address some of the key issues facing organic beef production in the UK, such as achieving the reliable substitution of imported beef supplies, the further development of beef production from the organic dairy herd, and how to develop a pricing structure which rewards everyone in the supply chain.

"We hope this conference will lead to a greater level of co-operation between organic farmers, and the development of a more supportive and mutually beneficial relationship between all those involved in organic beef production," Browning added.

Bansback is due to address delegates today and tell them that organic beef production is increasing rapidly and is set to beat the 15-20% year-on-year growth the sector saw in 2006.

However, he will warn delegates that unless an extra 15-20,000 head of finished cattle are produced by 2010, demand will not be satisfied.

This assumes that the current ratio of 60% domestic and 40% imported organic beef remains static. If UK producers were to capture the whole of the market, 36,000 extra head of cattle would be needed.

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