1 March 1996

Slaughterhouse plans given the amber light

By Philip Clarke

MEAT and Livestock Commission plans to rationalise the abattoir sector received a boost this week, with the Federation of Freshmeat Wholesalers giving its support to the principles behind the scheme.

Under the plan, compensation of up to £70m would be available in the form of a bank loan to pay off those wishing to quit the industry. This would be paid back by charging a levy on continuing operators.

Following a special meeting at MLC headquarters last Sunday (Feb 25), attended by over half the Federations membership, a spokeswoman said it had given the "amber light" to the proposals. "We had a very constructive debate and asked the MLC to take the scheme forward to the next stage." A formal response to this effect is being drafted.

This "next stage", according to MLC head of industry strategy, Martin Palmer, would be to produce a draft order and code of practice spelling out the provisions of the scheme in much greater detail.

But before that happened, the views of other parties would be considered once the initial consultation deadline passed on Mar 15.

The NFU livestock committee was sitting down to debate the document yesterday (Thursday). But a meeting of its advisory committee last week suggested there could be a number of reservations – not least about the impact of such a rationalisation scheme on market prices.

Mr Palmer stressed that an industry consensus was needed before taking the proposals forward. "The majority of the industry must be saying to us: OK, go to the next stage, even though we may have some reservations."

But even this measure of support is unlikely from the ranks of the Quality Meat and Livestock Alliance, which represents typically smaller abattoirs. In its response to the decommissioning plan it accuses the MLC of trying to "centralise, control and contain slaughtering" and blames the larger operators and government for any overcapacity. It argues that market forces should be left to sort out the problem, while further bureaucratic control would only lead to greater distortions.

Mr Palmer said he would certainly listen to the views of the QMLA, but as a relatively new splinter group, it was not one the MLC was formally required to consult.

&#8226 German abattoirs and farmers have agreed to set up a special body to oversee a 20% reduction in their slaughter capacity. So far 17 major companies have signed up to the "Strukturkrisenkartel". &#42