11 January 2002

MLCdue for shake-up in the wake of F&M

THE Meat and Livestock Commission will be radically reformed in the wake of foot-and-mouth, according to the organisations chairman.

Peter Barr told the Oxford Farming Conference that 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 added. "I think the MLC will change radically because I think the whole industry will change radically."

Further details of the changes are likely to emerge over the coming months. Mr Barr indicated that the meat industry would be urged to differentiate its product from foreign competition and become more efficient. "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. The burden of making the supply chain more efficient should not fall only on producers, he said. "Taking costs out of supply chain doesnt meaning taking costs from farmers. It means taking them out of the whole supply chain."

But change was inevitable and standards should be ratcheted up over time to reflect what consumers want, added Mr Barr. A major challenge for the MLC over the next year will be to help recapture markets lost to importers over the last 12 months, he said. The organisation has already taken steps to encourage caterers to use more domestically produced meat.