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Welsh red meat sector stands at 'a crossroads'.

Byline: Chris Kelsey Farming editor chris.kelsey@walesonline.co.uk

The red meat industry faces unprecedented challenges over the coming years, according to the man whose job it is to sell Wales' lamb and beef to Britain and the world.

Uncertainty over how Brexit will affect trade with Europe, which consumes a third of all Welsh lamb production, has added to longer-term changes in consumer habits and the global food industry to leave the sector at a crossroads said Kevin Roberts, incoming chairman of red meat body Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC).

Despite this, Mr Roberts believes there is hope for the future with the flagship PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh Beef brands well-placed to lead a thriving Welsh food sector, provided that Brexit doesn't unfairly disadvantage Welsh meat.

"There are challenges in the UK and other mature markets - competition from low-cost and artificial proteins, growing flexitarianism and people having less time to cook evening meals," he said.

"But Welsh lamb, beef and pork have a positive tale to tell which chimes with what the modern customer wants."

The lamb, beef and pork industry is worth more than PS600m a year to the Welsh economy.

"Welsh meat has an impeccable story behind it. It's produced through low-intensity, high-welfare agriculture in tune with its environment, is of very high quality and is backed up by strict traceability," Mr Roberts added.

"Making consumers aware of this is the key to targeting premium sectors, and a growing middle class in many global regions offer increased opportunities for exports of highquality meat.

"There's also a positive message regarding health, with red meat being an excellent source of iron, zinc and vitamins as part of a balanced diet."

A former director general of both the NFU and the Meat and Livestock Commission with wide experience in Welsh agricultural policy, Mr Roberts was appointed chairman of HCC in July.

His vision is based on securing the best possible returns for Welsh farmers and processors by focusing on exports, premium markets and production costs.

"There's a very clear link between the export performance of Welsh meat and the price the farmer receives," he said.

"To ensure those returns are consistent, we also need to target the premium markets which pay a consistent price, rather than marketing our product cheaply to commodity markets."

He added; "HCC can also work with partners across the supply chain to ensure that production is as efficient as possible, which benefits both producers' bottom line and the environment."

But he is realistic about how HCC's future plans could be affected by the uncertain future trading relationships that the UK can negotiate following Brexit.

He said; "We're planning on the basis of four possible scenarios, ranging from free trade with Europe through to WTO tariffs and unilateral liberalisation. Economists' research suggests that the sheep industry is the agricultural sector which is most exposed to potential tariffs and other barriers to trade with the EU.

"Our contingency planning is looking at ways to increase domestic consumption as well as growing non-EU exports, but both of these are very challenging to achieve in the time available," he added.

"A prosperous future for the Welsh red meat sector is our goal whatever the trade situation, but it's eminently more achievable if we continue to have free and unfettered access to European markets."

HCC is holding its annual conference at the Vale Hotel, Hensol, in the Vale of Glamorgan on November 9. Guest speakers scheduled to appear include Rural Affairs Secretary Lesley Griffiths, nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, award-winning butcher Peter Rushforth and Tim Rycroft of the Food and Drink Federation.

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The lamb carcass competition at the 2014 Royal Welsh Winter Fair
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 31, 2017
Words:615
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