3 May 2001
Industry cool over MLC campaign

By Alistair Driver

FARM leaders are lukewarm about Meat and Livestock Commission plans for a 25 million campaign backed by reforms to the livestock sector.

The MLC believes many producers may not recover from foot-and-mouth unless the government funds a 25m campaign to promote British meat.

But livestock leaders are worried about the expense and wisdom of reforms to the livestock sector which the MLC wants to accompany the campaign.

The most controversial of these reforms is the individual electronic tagging of all farm animals and a central movement database of Britains 60m livestock.

MLC leaders also want producers to join a farm assurance scheme and introduce tighter hygiene strategies to minimise a repeat of foot-and-mouth.

They claim that tagging livestock, accompanied by a central database of all livestock movement records, will convince consumers that British meat is safe.

Tagging and other reforms would cost the industry 90m in the first year and then 70m a year thereafter, according to MLC analysts.

However, they believe that efficiency gains and cost-savings through being able to track down disease more quickly and save about 100m a year.

But livestock producers gave a cool reaction to the proposals, which the MLC insists will not be foisted on the industry without full consultation.

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said individual tagging would be too expensive unless it was subsidised.

Mr Thorley criticised the MLC for not discussing the proposals with its sheep strategy council before issuing the 25m plea for government aid.

He said: “Given that sheep margins have disappeared, it would be very difficult to make ends meet if farmers had to meet the cost.”

Tagging all of Britains 42m sheep would be too expensive, added Mr Thorley. Assurance schemes would be a better way of gaining consumer trust.

Stewart Houston, chairman of the National Pig Association producer group, indicated that pig farmers would not be keen on the scheme either.

“The pig industry already operates to higher traceability standards than other sectors,” he told FARMERS WEEKLY.

The British Veterinary Association said farming needed a traceability system that worked and electronic identification could provide this.

But BVA junior vice-president Peter Jinman said: “Any system must be practical, affordable and welfare friendly. It could be difficult to implement.”

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