Monday, 22 April 2019
By Josh Barrie - inews

Britain can keep its meat affordable after Brexit, but will need to eat totally differently

For years, Europe’s meat consumption has been happily idiosyncratic: where Britain eats chicken breast by the nugget-load, many of our Continental cousins prefer darker meat from the thigh;

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our annual 117 tonnes of bacon, much of which is imported, is offset by our sending truckloads of belly meat the other way. Such is the British desire for pork loins, the thick and juicy cut from which bacon is derived, millions of pigs must be purchased from the EU.

Going the other way are many of the pork shoulders we produce. They require greater culinary nous in order to make flavourful and tender. Brits still lack skill in the kitchen. Perhaps we’re all too busy watching MasterChef. Even when marketing campaigns prove fruitful – pulled pork has seen quite the push in the last decade – British palettes remain more than satiated.

Only seven million pigs are required annually to meet demand for shoulder meat, which is around three million below the average number slaughtered. All this boils down to one, unappealing-sounding term: carcass balance. With the UK comfortably in the EU, meat moving freely between countries, it is easy for British farmers to send their unwanted pig cheeks to France and for retailers to buy enough chicken breasts from Poland to fill all the ready made curries we eat.

Carcass balance and worst case scenario Brexit, no-deal or not, will be disruptive: tariffs might lead to higher import and export prices; production costs will likely rise. Crucially for consumers, if bacon costs more to buy from Europe, and pork belly becomes more expensive to send there, it means price rises and, in the worst case scenario, even shortages of favoured cuts.

The pork market, once promoted so painfully by former Defra secretary Liz Truss, might even collapse completely (David Cameron, meanwhile, has his trotters up).  Ed Barker, who represents the National Pig Association, said to i: “We buy a relatively small range of pig meat products. We only use certain parts of the animal and the surplus is exported. “Here, we eat lots of loin meat, used for bacon, and legs, which are used for cooked ham and gammon. We sell lots of belly, shoulder, and offal. The offal market here is virtually non-existent, even with chefs and restaurants talking about it. “Brexit could impact this and lead to a higher cost of production.

Trade could become more expensive, which will lead to higher costs for consumers. The carcass balance we have, basically, would be fractured – meat in demand would go up in price and cheaper cuts would become cheaper, or, worse, wasted. “We actually have enough pigs to be self-sufficient, but only if British habits change radically. We over-consume some cuts and under-consume others. “In a no-deal Brexit, bacon might end up being 5-6 per cent higher in price.

Consumer trends When it comes to pork loins, consumption has been estimated to be the equivalent of around 23 million pigs annually, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board reported. This equates to more than double the number of pigs slaughtered in the UK every year.

Legs aren’t far off, with around 19 million pigs required to meet demand. Compared to belly meat, affably haute on the dining tables of Soho but ignored in households, and pork is polarised: only five million pigs are needed. The rest is carted off to Europe. The poultry market is strikingly similar, albeit on a grander scale.

Poultry makes up some 50 per cent of all meat eaten in the UK. Around 88 per cent of that is chicken. Brexit could mean chicken relapses to pre-mass produced luxury – unless we all decide to cook with chicken thighs, drumsticks and wings, that is. Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said chicken breast meat could go up by as much as 27 per cent. “There are a lot of ‘what ifs’ at the moment,” he told i. “But, at the moment, it looks like Brexit could be really damaging to the [poultry] industry.

It’s all a case of value. We might lose value in darker meats sales with difficulties in trade, and those sales offset the purchase of breast meat. “The model we work to is balanced. It might not be after Brexit, especially in the event of a no-deal.

Sliding scale “It would mean dark meat would go down in price in the UK, however. If less is sold to Europe, there’d be more here. It’s a sliding scale.

Breast meat would go up – in our worse-case scenario, by as much as 27 per cent – cheaper cuts would become cheaper.” Mr Griffiths indicated he didn’t know why, exactly, we developed such a strong love of chicken’s most flavourless butchered part. He said the McDonald’s “100 per cent breast meat” advertising campaigns might have something to do with it. Said Mr Griffiths: “Consumer habits build up over many years. Cheaper cuts are traditionally harder to cook too. There’s an element of convenience.” As the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms, British cooks may yet have to do away with the convenience the EU has so far afforded them. We might even need to learn how to cook.

 

By Josh Barrie - inews

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