Report Synopsis

To explore ways to restore confidence in, and increase consumption of Beef in the UK

Pauline Harkin

This report was originally written in 1999, 20 years ago. My Nuffield Farming Scholarship was then, and remains to this day, a pivotal time in my life and understanding of the beef industry.

With eating quality and increasing consumption as my main mission, and armed with the knowledge I had gained from my Nuffield Farming travels, I was able to meet with the main supermarket buyers and directors of processing plants in the UK to discuss eating quality and how to improve consumer confidence. I was met with very little enthusiasm as it wasn’t deemed necessary, and ‘fast in and out’ was the main objective for cash flow purposes. I left the meetings feeling somewhat deflated and frustrated with their lack of forward vision.

Consumers were encouraged to buy ‘Fresh beef’ - bright red was supposed to be best and whilst consumers were driving the market there was no need for the processors to change their ways.

It was clear that we had to change the consumer mindset at the same time as that of the supermarket buyers. With the help of the National Beef Association - where I became a director - and of various consumer groups, the message went out loud and clear in various press releases and open days. Twenty years on and I am delighted to report that, now, all major supermarkets supply ‘matured’ beef or ’21-day beef’ and consumption is up by 28% with the amount per capita being 18.5 Kg as compared to 14.4 Kg in 1999. This is despite the growth of veganism. The MLC, who got a fair amount of criticism in my report, has now been replaced by AHDB (Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board) where the levies seem to be far more transparently spent and a much larger percentage is now going to eating quality and product development rather than smart buildings and expensive marketing.

Revisiting my report written twenty years ago and now researching what is happening today has been a very positive experience for me. Too often it appears that change and progress in the agricultural Industry is excruciatingly slow or will never happen. Could I really make a difference? I asked myself many times. This exercise has shown that with the Nuffield Farming badge and support, stubborn persistence and a certain amount of footwork, positive changes can be made. To the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust and the Beckett Scholarship I am eternally grateful for this opportunity without whom this progress would never have happened.

I have been delighted that the findings appear to have been of interest - and, even better, of use - to others with a similar interest in improving the beef industry.

This reprinted and updated version of my original report has come about because of continuing requests for the original document and I hope you enjoy reading it.

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