Bayer loses €1.8bn Roundup court case
A third jury in California has found the manufacturer of glyphosate-based herbicides responsible for causing cancer.

A US jury has ordered German-based chemicals manufacturer Bayer to pay €1.8bn in damages after finding that its Roundup herbicide had caused the cancers of an elderly couple.

A superior state court in California heard the trial following legal action by Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who testified that they had used the glyphosate-based herbicide for decades before both becoming ill with lymphoma-type cancers.

Arguments centred on insufficient warnings given to users of Roundup about its potential risks.

The product was then made by Monsanto, which has since merged with Bayer.

This is the third jury finding against the manufacturer in cancer cases in California. All are subject to appeal.

Environmental Protection Agency

Bayer said in a statement following the verdict that the latest verdict "conflicts directly with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s interim registration review decision released just last month, the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the 40 years of extensive scientific research on which their favorable conclusions are based".

The company added that Mr and Mrs Pilliod had long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for their cancers.

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Royal warrant awarded to ABP subsidiary
The British royal household is a supporter of “closed loop” food chains, it would seem.

ABP Renewables Division, Olleco, has been granted a royal warrant by the Queen of England. Olleco operates a “closed loop” supply chain to supply the royal household with cooking oils and fats.

The closed loop in this case reduces carbon miles by using the return journey to take back used cooking oils. These are then processed at Olleco’s bio-refinery to create biodiesel.

Warrants are awarded as a mark of recognition to people or companies that have regularly supplied goods or services to members of the Royal Family for at least five years.

"This is a huge honour and we are delighted and proud to be recognised for our service, helping the royal household to tackle climate change,” Robert Behan, CEO of Olleco, said. “If we are to achieve the UN’s goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C, every household, community, organisation and nation in the world has to change the way they operate."

Olleco has a network of 19 sites across the British Isles to supply a number of food and hospitality brands. The company supplies fresh oils and fats and takes back used oils, it also collects food waste, which is then converted to renewable energy and fed back into the national gas and electricity grids.

Image by Paul Michael Hughes

Olleco was formed by ABP Food Group in 2006.

Closed loop

The Glanbia-Kepak dairy calf to beef club known as the Twenty20 club includes a "closed loop" supply chain. All inputs to rear the calves in the group, such as fertiliser and meal, must be sourced from Glanbia.

This was questioned at the Oireachtas agriculture committee meeting on Tuesday this week. TDs asked whether it was anti-competitive to lock farmers into this closed loop.

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Listen: Irish food exports to China to hit €1bn soon – Creed
Aidan Brennan reports from the Bord Bia-led trade mission to China this week.

Irish agri-food exports to China will soon hit the €1bn mark, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said while visiting the SIAL food fair in Shanghai.

“Since 2010, the exports have gone from €200m to €800m and I think the billion mark is well within our reach in the short term,” Minister Creed told the Irish Farmers Journal. “Whether it is dairy, beef or pork, this is a really important market.”

However, he placed a caveat on that, in that regulatory requirements must be met to build a long-term export market in China for Irish produce.

Irish meat and dairy exporters attended SIAL along with Bord Bia. Trade wars with the US and a looming African swine fever crisis are going to upset the balance of trade between China and the rest of the world.

Minister Creed spoke to the Irish Farmers Journal about how this will impact Ireland:

On Wednesday, the minister and his officials will attend meetings in Beijing on the issue of meat plant export approvals. A number of plants are awaiting approval to export.

“In the longer term, the spec that is available to come into the market here as well is something we are looking to improve,” he said. “The pork sector at home has been on its knees for a substantial period, the pickup in the market will be sustainable in the Chinese market for the near future.”

The minister added that the shortage of protein due to African swine fever in China will not only benefit pork producers in Ireland, but demand will spill over into the beef sector.

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Role of offal in calculating beef price
The value factories get from harvesting the offal is reflected in the beef price, but absence of transparency means this isn't clear to farmers

When factories are paying for cattle they buy from farmers, the value is calculated on the carcase weight multiplied by a rate per kg. However, in getting to the point where the carcase reaches the factory scale for weighing, a significant amount – between 40% and 50% – of the animal that the farmer dropped off in the lairage has been removed. This includes the hide, head, feet and all the internal organs.

What is of particular interest to farmers is that this product is harvested by the factory before the animal is weighed and therefore does not appear to cost the factory anything to purchase, despite the fact that is has a commercial value. In industry jargon this is referred to as the “fifth quarter” because when the animal moves through the slaughter hall, it is split into two sides. Each side is, in turn, split across the middle when it enters the boning room. That means that the original animal is now divided into four quarters while the left over parts removed during the process are described as the “fifth quarter”.

How it works

Offal is an important source of revenue for meat factories but it is oversimplification to suggest that this figure is an automatic profit. There is a cost to harvesting, storing and selling offal just as there is with prime beef cuts.

Hides can be another substantial revenue for meat factories which can be worth up to €80 for prime cattle and €50 for cows when the market is at its peak

Also, in practice, meat factories reflect the value of offal in what they decide to pay for beef carcases, which is what remains of the animal once the hide and internal organs have been removed. Hides can be another substantial revenue for meat factories which can be worth up to €80 for prime cattle and €50 for cows when the market is at its peak.

The beef carcase is what is left after the hide, head, feet and internal organs have been removed and is what the factory pays for.

However, for much of the past year, the hide trade has been very weak with prime cattle hides have been trading around €30 and cow hides worth just €10-€15.

Disassembly line

Meat processing is the reverse of the normal assembly line process, with the animal that arrives at the factory broken up into over 100 component parts between prime cuts of beef and offal. In deciding the value of a beef animal, the factory will know the yield or weight of each of these component parts and the price they expect to get for each in the market place.

Offal is harvested in the slaughter hall and packed or transported to a separate site for further processing

Costings are typically produced on each batch of carcases going through the cutting plant in which the weight and yield of the batch across the cuts are captured. At the end of each batch, the expected value of the prime cuts, plus a value for the fat and bones are added up.

Offal is harvested in the slaughter hall and packed or transported to a separate site for further processing. Hides are removed early in the process and taken immediately out of the slaughter hall as there is a high risk of contamination of the beef carcase. They are taken outside into a non-food production area for either onward dispatch to a hide merchant or, in many cases, companies prepare their own for selling into the leather tanning industry.

Total value

When all of these separate operations are complete in the meat factory, they will be able to calculate the amount and market value of each product they have. It is usual practice that this is carried out on a weekly basis by way of management accounts and, in this, the expected value of the beef from the carcase that was weighed is added to the offal, hides and other by-products to establish the overall value of the animal to the factory.

This will then dictate what the factory intends to pay for its next intake of cattle, so the value of offal becomes part of the price paid by the factory per kg for the carcase.

Transparency

Of course all of this process is carried out by factory owners out of sight of farmers. The EU has a fantastic price reporting system that publishes accurate weekly values paid for beef carcases across each member state.

Currently, the EU Commission is exploring how to bring greater transparency to what happens in the factory and wholesale sectors of the industry

Unfortunately, that is where the information ends until whenever the meat reaches either the butcher’s counter, supermarket shelf or restaurant when the price the product is offered to the consumer becomes known. The bit in the middle is the great unknown but it need not be.

Currently, the EU Commission is exploring how to bring greater transparency to what happens in the factory and wholesale sectors of the industry. An off-the-shelf solution is available by copying what happens in the USA. There, the USDA publishes daily information of stocks and values of all component parts of the animal, including offal. Irish farmers should have the same knowledge and information on what happens the parts of their livestock after they drop them off at the factory lairage.

Comment

Greater transparency on what happens to the products from the beef animal after it leaves the farmers trailer would actually benefit factories as well as farmers. It would enable factories to explain clearly and on a factual basis why the market is performing in the way it is at any given time.

It may be a small consolation but it would enable farmers then to understand why factory prices were poor

Information is collected by the Irish Farmers Journal on an ad hoc intelligence-based way and this gives us a basic insight but not the full picture. We have information that there was more imports into the EU in 2018, less exports from the EU and slightly increased production alongside (at best) a stable market. This suggests there will be over supply of beef but it would be so much better if we could actually see the total stocks in factories and what price they were getting on the wholesale market.

It may be a small consolation but it would enable farmers then to understand why factory prices were poor and of course in a rising trade with low stocks and rising wholesale values, farmers would be in a position to drive a harder bargain when selling.