Qualified OK for MLClevy rise
By Alistair Driver
A 10% hike in Meat and Livestock Commission levies on cattle and sheep has drawn qualified support from farm industry bodies.
The increases introduced next spring will boost MLC funds by £2.6m if commissioners adopt proposals put out for industry consultation on Tuesday.
The commission has admitted the planned increases could be difficult to sell to farmers in a year when incomes are predicted to fall by another 27%. But director-general Gwyn Howells has told them more money is needed so the MLC can invest in the long-term future of the livestock industry.
National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster said farmers would back the proposals if they were convinced that the extra money would specifically boost sales of British beef, and not imported meat.
NFU livestock adviser Kevin Pearce said the commission will need to be clear and concise as to what it has done so far and why it needs to increase levies. He said farmers that have been consulted so far have understood the reasons behind the plans.
A National Sheep Association spokeswoman said farmers might resent having to spend more money. "But if the MLC does not have enough money to promote the product, it cannot do its job properly."
Most of the proposed increase is in the promotional levies, which are paid for entirely by farmers. The beef promotional levy would go up from £2.30 to £2.70 for each animal slaughtered, while the sheep levy would rise from 32p to 36p/head.
The general levy, split 50:50 between producers and abattoirs, would be upped from £2.05 to £2.15/head for cattle and from 31p to 33p/head for sheep.
There are no plans to raise the levy on pigs as the industry is currently consulting on a 20p a pig levy for a scheme to help producers hit by swine fever.
MLC director general Gwyn Howells said money is tight at the MLC.
"We are facing a number of challenges, slaughterings are down, our reserves have been depleted, external funding is becoming tighter and media costs have risen sharply."
He said the MLC has been cutting its costs. But the cattle and sheep strategy councils decided they need to raise levies for the first time since 1996 to deliver their strategies.
The Beef and Lamb Promotion Council said more money is needed to maintain the momentum generated by the Tim Nice But Dim campaign.
But Mr Forster said lifting consumption of all meat was not enough. "The extra money must be used to specifically promote British beef," he said.
Government statistics show UK beef consumption rose by 9% in the third quarter of 2000, compared with last year, and is up by 13% in the year to September. But prices are down and Mr Forster blames an influx of cheap imports.