Tasked with uniting all sectors of the food chain

A NUMBER of projects are being set up by a North East red meat steering group which aims to bring together all sectors of the chain for improved communication and sustainability within the industry.

A group of 20 interested parties meet every quarter under the umbrella of The North East Red Meat Industry Task Group, which aims to influence and steer the direction and operation of initiatives relating to red meat in the North East.

It is one of several projects and activities supported by the Sustainable Food and Farming Strategy (SFFS).

Independently chaired by Alan Stevenson, who said the red meat industry throughout England's regions had been disjointed in the past, the aim of the group is to tackle a previous lack of communication along the supply chain.

Mr Stevenson said the group endeavoured to highlight current issues, identify opportunities, provide a representative voice and develop a regional red meat action plan, to help secure the long term future of the region's red meat sector.

"There's a concern within the North East farming sector, in particular about abattoir capacity now that a number of major plants have exited from the industry. It is important to make sure for those plants that are remaining that capacity levels also remain."

He said a survey of abattoirs, conducted in 2002, would be revealed at the end of March after being reviewed and updated by the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC).

This research would help determine an estimate of the number of cattle and sheep were being slaughtered and processed in the region.

Mr Stevenson said bout 15 per cent of the UK lamb population was based in the North East but many were moved out to other parts of the country for slaughter and for export. He said it was paramount and financially more viable to ensure sufficient capacity to slaughter animals regionally.

A regional facilitator will help take forward the red meat agenda - a post funded by through RDS's ERDP programme, which will be managed by the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF).

Mr Stevenson said the task group was also involved in a regional pilot scheme which was looking at exporting boxed sheep and cattle meat into the European market and there was a project to fund co-operation projects which enabled all sectors in the industry to have the chance to promote quality product out of the region.

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