14 February 1997

Few support MLC levy rise, poll finds

By Shelley Wright

MOST beef farmers are not prepared to pay higher Meat and Live-stock Commission levies, a farmers weekly phone poll has found.

Producers were asked whether they would pay higher levies to fund beef promotion – 79% of callers rejected any rise, while 21% said they would pay more. Ben Gill, deputy NFU president, welcomed the result. The voting reflected the unions view – producers would not pay higher levies until the MLC completed a fundamental review of its operations.

Rationalisation was essential, said Mr Gill, and the commission had to prioritise its work, concentrating only on promotion, research and development, and its statistics and economic services.

The MLCs cash crisis was eased slightly last week when farm minister, Douglas Hogg, announced he was giving £2.25m from the EU beef aid package to the commission to help with beef promotions. Mr Hogg also gave £250,000 to the MLCs Northern Ireland equivalent, the Livestock and Meat Commission.

Mr Gill said farmers were concerned about the MLCs future and the EU money would certainly help. But he urged the UK government to dip into its own pocket and match the sum from the domestic budget. And he pointed out that it was surely better for the government to spend money on encouraging beef consumption than pay for intervention storage.

Don Curry, MLC chairman, was delighted with the £2.25m boost. "This is unreservedly good news for the whole beef industry and for those who want to buy British beef," he said.

The extra funds would allow MLC to extend the promotion work, primarily for mince and burgers, that began last year. But despite the cash, Mr Curry needs another £12.75m to allow the commission to undertake all the beef promotion it says is needed. &#42