The agricultural industry, particularly the livestock section, has been beset by difficulties in recent years, with the wettest year since 1776, the lowest commodity prices since the 1930's in many sectors, and by the widespread outbreak of ‘foot and mouth’ disease (F&M). This epidemic renewed fears for the future in an industry that was just beginning to see a glimmer of hope for better times ahead after many years of depression, with the OECD forecasting in early 2001 that world agricultural markets were poised for a ‘significant recovery‘.
Following what with hindsight can be thought of as a ‘golden period’ in the early 1990's, things began to go really wrong in the livestock sector after the BSE crisis in 1996. The problems were exacerbated by many other ‘external economic’ pressures in the late 1990's - in particular the high value of the pound and its effect on trade and market prices, the economic problems in other parts of the world (particularly in South East Asia and the former Eastern bloc), and an oversupplied European food market (particularly for meat and dairy products). By the late 1990's these ‘macro’ pressures were affecting all livestock sectors and if things were not bad enough, the spectre of ‘disease’ was about to make matters worse, beginning with the outbreak of classical swine fever in the pig industry in 2000.
The downward pressure on market prices and the monetary losses have also brought into focus the structural changes that are sorely needed throughout the livestock production, and meat processing/marketing supply chains in Britain. It has been apparent (ignoring the international situation) since the late 1980's, following the more rapid changes that have occurred in the final domestic consumer market, that these have been needed and they are now essential if the industry is to remain competitive in the 21st century.
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