14 April 1999
More say for farmers in the MLC?

By Isabel Davies

FARMERS could have more of a say in the work of the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) – if government recommendations receive support.

Following its own review of the organisation, the government is now asking trade and consumer groups how the MLC should operate in the future.

The consultation also aims to discover farmers views on whether changes are necessary to the MLCs organisational structure.

The governments recommendations suggest replacing the current general and promotional levies with one enhanced rate of levy for each species.

They include giving the strategy councils greater responsibility for developing an overall policy for each livestock sector and phasing out promotional councils.

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, welcomed the suggestion that strategy councils should be given more power.

“In the past the MLC has seen as a lecturing rather than listening organisation,” he said.

“This report tries to overcome the accusation that the MLC pays too much attention to processors and retailers and not enough to the people that fund it.”

Mr Forster said that empowering the overall majority of farmers within the strategy councils would give those that funded the MLC a fairer voice.

But John Thorley, chairman of the National Sheep Association (NSA) was adamant that phasing out promotional councils would be a mistake.

“Promotion is a specialist affair and we believe that it would be better to keep the expertise rather than overload the strategy councils with no benefit,” he said.

The whole livestock industry would suffer if pig farmers succeeded in their aim of removing pigmeat from the MLCs remit, added Mr Thorley.

But the British Pig Industry Support Group remains convinced that this must remain an objective even though such a move would require primary legislation.

“A multi-species approach doesnt work,” said Meryl Ward, BPISG treasurer.

“We need more focus and a team totally focused on the needs of the pig industry.”

In the meantime, strategy councils should be given much more enhanced powers and total budgetary control, she added.

The MLC itself claims that the government report shows that it is “on the right track”.

Don Curry, MLC chairman, claimed the commission had already recognised and acted upon many of the issues highlighted in the report.

Only this week it announced a further £3 million to promote the British meat quality standards for pork.

Comments on the governments report will be considered before agriculture ministers make their final decisions on the reviews outcome later this year.