3 January 2002
MLC faces radical reform chairman

By Isabel Davies in Oxford

THE chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission has hinted that his organisation will be radically reformed in the wake of foot-and-mouth.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Peter Barr said the entire farming industry faced a period of restructuring after the crisis.

If that was so, it was also right that it should be a time of change for the MLC, he told conference delegates on Thursday (3 January).

“I think the MLC will change radically because I think the whole industry will change radically,” he added.

Further details of the changes are likely to emerge over the coming months.

Mr Barr said the meat industry must differentiate its product from foreign competition and become more efficient if it was to survive and prosper.

If the industry changed, Mr Barr said he was sure it could overcome its problems and regain its place as the finest meat industry in the world.

“It may sometimes be tough but I have no doubt we can have a British meat industry that leads the world and beats the world.”

One way to differentiate the product would be to join-up assurance schemes so producers operated to one set of standards, said Mr Barr.

“Any producer who failed to get the mark would effectively be unable to sell his product,” he added.

“Imagine how that will concentrate the mind. Tough yes but think what it would do for standards and how it would build confidence in the product.”

Speaking later, Mr Barr stressed that he was not trying to say there was something wrong with existing assurance schemes.

But change was inevitable and standards should be “ratcheted up over time to reflect what consumers and society want.”

On the issue of making the supply chain more efficient, Mr Barr said the burden should not fall on producers.

“Taking costs out of supply chain doesnt meaning taking costs from farmers. It means taking them out of the whole supply chain,” he said.

A major challenge for the MLC over the next year would be to help recapture markets lost to importers over the last 12 months, he said.

Import penetration had risen from 25% in 1990 to 33% in 2000 and the situation had got even worse in the last year because of foot-and-mouth.

This was a major concern and the MLC had already taken steps to encourage the catering sector to start using more domestically reared product.

Representatives have been speaking to chefs in the past few weeks and hope to go into other catering establishments to help promote British meat.