A conference of the BovINE (beef innovation network Europe) project was recently held over three days near Cologne in Germany, where the consortium of 18 organisations spread out across 10 EU member countries met to share and discuss information from their respective countries, as well as visiting farms in the northern Germany area.
The BovINE project is based on a mutual understanding of the challenges facing the European beef sector, with individual countries pooling resources and research for the common benefit of the industry.
It is not a research project; rather it is the collection of existing knowledge from farmers, vets, industry stake holders and agricultural research bodies to aid in tackling the economic, social and environmental challenges facing the European beef industry.
Below is some information on four of the presentations made.
France has begun the introduction of a new type of labelling system for beef products in French supermarkets. Renumera score is an interactive display to provide consumers with remuneration levels of farmers through product labels, including electronic labels validated by inter-professional organisation, with the idea being to improve the level of transparency in beef production costs and improve the current loss of connection between consumer and producer.
It is also believed that the consumer would be willing to spend more if producer was better paid, according to preliminary studies. Each beef product receives a score ranging from A+ to F scoring on production costs, with A+ score indicating a high profit for the producer, while an F score shows a total absence of salary for the primary producer. The initiative is carried out in association with Lidl France.
Many management systems common in calf rearing for veal production in European countries can lead to high use of antibiotics (calves from many farms, overcrowding, transporting over long distances etc) with the result being antimicrobial resistance, increased veterinary costs and increased mortality levels.
In an effort to correct this, trials were conducted, with calves purchased locally to avoid transport stress, with each calf also vaccinated for pneumonia.
Traditionally, calves are housed indoors in large purpose-built facilities, with the result being a risk of disease spreading rapidly throughout the house.
For the trial, calves were housed outdoors in groups of 10 or fewer, with access to a shelter hut. The results of the trial showed a fivefold decrease in the amount of antibiotics used, alongside a reduced mortality rate
An issue occurred in Belgium where Belgian Blue carcases were presenting with issues. Carcases were presenting with a loss of moisture and increased drip loss, resulting in a tough and dry meat.
Genotyping of Belgian blue animals showed that the carcase issues were due to a mutation in ATP2A1 gene in the breed, where a relaxation of the muscle (mainly on hindquarters) was not working correctly.
The issue was undetectable while the animal was alive and only caused an issue at slaughter time. Genotyping of the national herd showed 67% contained no mutation (labelled as meat+ animals), 30% had one mutation (heterozygote) and 3% had two mutations of the gene (homozygote).
The plan is to use of bulls with no copies of the gene (meat+) for breeding. Using meat+ sires only will considerably reduce occurrence of the mutation, with no double carrier (homozygote) animals produced in the first generation and a reduction of single carrier (heterozygote) animals from 30% to 17%.
After two generations of breeding with meat+ bulls only, the percentage of animals with no mutation rises from 67% to 92%.
Germany has a strong market regarding the export of breeding stock, predominantly dairy heifers to countries seeking to improve the genetics of their national herd. In the region of 100,000 animals are exported live from Germany each year, the majority for breeding.
An area of contention exists among people regarding the long transport distances animals are subjected to when exported, with animals having been transported by road up to a distance of 5,000km.
An idea has been developed among vets and the German Livestock Association through the development of a tracking an to allow for digital, tamper proofed documentation of animal welfare during transport.
A checklist is completed at departure, where it is approved by a vet, and again at the designated rest stops along the way. Data is collected about the truck, route (and changes to it), condition of animals and the rest places along the journey.
Pictures are taken and uploaded of stock at various points and is uploaded. Trucks are cleaned out, re-bedded and water and feed supplies replenishes as per the pre-planned route.
The hope is that the transparency and planning of the transport will alleviate any issues and set a high standard for live animal exports throughout the EU.