NFU Scotland is planning to use the nation’s biggest agricultural showcase, the Royal Highland Show, to pick a bone with the major retailers over the division of risk and reward between those selling and those producing meat for the table.
The union yesterday said that it would use the Ingliston event – where many of the supermarkets have a high profile to stress their links with farming – to challenge retailers over the market share Scottish farmers have been receiving for beef cattle and also to encourage supermarkets to quickly switch over to stocking shelves with new season Scotch lamb.
Announcing the move, Charlie Adam, chairman of the union’s livestock committee, said that over the past 12 months less than half of the price shoppers paid for Scotch beef had made its way to farmers.
“In addition, many livestock farmers in Scotland have expressed concern that changes in weight restrictions at abattoirs have had a negative impact on farm,” said Adam.
He said the tighter specifications meant more farmers were suffering penalties for being out of the new spec – meaning the average price producers received per finished animal had been falling.
“The union is challenging retailers and their processors to ensure that prices paid for cattle cover the costs of production. The vast majority of the costs involved in producing Scotch beef are fixed, and come from the cost involved in looking after the cow and rearing the calf.
“For those involved in finishing cattle, cutting the specified weights required at abattoirs must not be used as an opportunity to cut prices to farmers by the back door.
“We understand that it is retailers who are pushing for lighter carcases, which in turn is increasing penalties for heavier animals and that is something we will be keen to discuss with them at the Highland.”
Adam added that regardless of the changes in beef specifications, there remained a need for retailers to ensure that the majority of the money consumers spent on quality Scotch beef actually made it back to those most involved in producing the product.
He said: “I believe shoppers would be astonished to learn that less than half the retail price for beef goes back to farmers.”
He said at a time of falling margins, those who carried the bulk of the risk when it came to producing food should receive a fair price for their efforts.
And he said the union would also be discussing the commitment – or lack of it – being shown to Scotch and British lamb by some supermarkets who, he said, “could do better”.
“NFU Scotland has already successfully worked with Marks & Spencer, Sainsburys and the Co-operative to extend the period in which they source home-produced lamb. This builds on the year-round commitment shown by Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl,” said Adam.
“With new season Scotch lamb now starting to come forward, NFU Scotland will continue to request that the largest retailers work to drive demand for lamb produced in Scotland and the UK.”