I am sure nearly everyone would love to say 'we know EXACTLY where our food has come from, every last morsel, from the ham in the fridge and the steak in the freezer, right down to the wheat that goes into our bread and the rutabaga in the jar of Branston pickle' (why they can't just call it swede like the rest of us I do not know). The reality though, is that it is just simply not possible. There are so many components in the average daily diet that one will never know where every ingredient came from. We just have to trust that the food processors and manufacturers are sourcing their ingredients responsibly, with fairness in mind to the producers.
There are also assurance schemes, which do offer the consumer some peace of mind when buying their food that it has been produced in a way that they would prefer. The Fairtrade Foundation have had great successes with cocoa, vanilla, bananas and many more foodstuffs in ensuring farmers in developing nations are receiving a fair price for their produce.
Huge success was also realised by a scheme that started in November 1998. The generation gap means many younger shoppers wouldn't have a clue why a small red lion is stamped onto most shop-bought eggs today. In fact, this scheme has 'effectively eradicated' Salmonella Enteritidis in British eggs since its introduction. In 2004, Health Protection Agency (HPA) tests, carried out on imported eggs, found nearly 7% tested positive for Salmonella. In the same HPA investigation, Salmonella was not recovered from any British Lion eggs.
More commonly known now though, is probably the little red tractor.
The Red Tractor Farm Assurance schemes cover six sectors; beef and lamb, dairy, pigs, poultry, combinable crops and sugar beet, and fresh produce. Here at Buckmoorend Farm we are members of the beef and lamb and combinable crops sectors. This isn't to say we simply sign a document confirming we rear our animals in a responsible fashion. That would be far too easy - for consumers to have faith in these logos and schemes they need to be robustly regulated. As such, we have had our inspection this very week, which I am pleased to say we passed without trouble.
So, if you ever see that logo on a fresh joint of beef, or even on a ready meal that contains farm assured beef or lamb, you may wonder exactly how is it assured? Well, the criteria is lengthy (the standards document is 98 pages), and the inspections long and arduous. Simply put, they delve into all aspects of the farm, such as: -
St Georges Day, 23 April, marked the start of Great British Beef Week, and let's be honest, both events probably flew by with very little awareness from most folk. They are both great events though. St Georges Day - a good time to celebrate all things English. We have a national identity, and a colourful history compared to many countries, and there is nothing wrong with celebrating that. Great British Beef Week too is a fantastic idea for a much needed campaign to promote homegrown beef, and highlight not just to the end consumer, but also to the beef industry in general the social, economical and health benefits of buying British beef. This year is a particularly appropriate campaign being one year on from the horsemeat scandal.
However, whilst it's great that these campaigns take place, and a great deal of work by very few is put into them in an effort to benefit so many, it seems as though they can often go unnoticed. This is a particular shame this year, because consumer awareness of the decline in the British beef industry is essential.
The UK is the fourth laargest producer of beef in europe, however production has fallen in recent times by around 4%, and herd numbers have been declining since 2002. This is no wonder when, in the week ending 3rd May, the same week Great British Beef week ended, average prices for deadweight prime cattle fell to below 350.0p/kg for the first time since November 2012. This time last year prices were around 400.0p/kg.
These declines can essentially be attributed to social and economic factors. Beef and red meat has been the brunt of many a sensationalised tabloid story regarding health issues from Creutzfeld Jakob Disease (CJD) to various forms of cancer. CJD is broken down into various types, and the form linked to the consumption of beef is variant CJD (vCJD). In 2012, in the UK, there were no deaths from vCJD, in 2013 there was one, and so far in 2014 there has been none. It seems to me to be common sense, beef, and other red meat as part of a balanced diet is not an unhealthy or risky menu choice. Beef is the source of an abundance of key nutrients including protein, zinc, iron, selenium and vitamins B6 and B12. These contribute to brain and muscle function, a boost to the immune system and healthy red blood cell development. It is widely considered as an excellent prevention of iron deficiency in developing young children and for mothers soon after giving birth.
The toughest test comes from economical factors though. There has been low consumer demand recently, largely due to households trying to cut back on food bills and settling for cheaper forms of protein and meat. This is coupled with the fact that on the UK's doorstep is Ireland, the largest exporter of beef in Europe and the 4th largest in the world. More beef coming in + less beef consumed = a supply/demand nightmare!
So, whilst Great British Beef Week is a novel way of creating awareness of the product, I don't think it really edcuates the consumer as to what is happening in the industry. Banging the beef drum doesn't hurt, but reaching out and engaging with shoppers about what they want, what they can afford and what they want to know about in relation to their food choices would be a far better way of trying to restore a declining industry. Here at Buckmoorend Farm we have a closed suckler herd of cattle. They are born, reared and finished here, living as we believe animals should. From April - November they stay outside, grazing a variety of grasslands from ancient meadows to fresh leys. In winter they are housed for their own benefit. We firmly believe it is the best way to rear cattle - slow grown for more flavour and as close to a natural existence as is reasonably possible.
However, although that's what we believe, the question remains, is it what the consumer wants? Not just quality of beef, but also the preservation of grazing cattle in the Great British countryside? Because if it is, it will take a more in depth and educational campaign, to a wider and more engaged audience, to create the massive shift in retail trends required to protect it.