Farm minister ready to legislate for market transparency

Defra farm minister George Eustice says voluntary codes of practice have not worked in food supply chains and the government plans to legislate to ensure transparency..

Both the dairy and beef sectors have introduced voluntary codes, but not all processors have signed up to them.

Mr Eustice made the shock announcement at the livestock commodity breakout session at the NFU Conference.

See also: Farm unions call for sheep processor code to improve transparency

Mr Eustice said: “I am done with writing to processors and asking them to join a voluntary code and then getting the brush off. It’s time for us to act. We need to legislate and get transparency in the supply chain so farmers know exactly where they stand.”

He added that Brexit could create a “culture change” opportunity about regulation, moving away from officials looking for problems, and moving towards a system grounded in common sense.

John Royle, NFU chief livestock adviser, welcomed Mr Eustice’s commitment to addressing transparency.

He said: “The voluntary codes were a step in the right direction but they just haven’t worked, particularly in the sheep sector. Too few abattoirs record the deadweight sheep price. Then you will either get someone who trims hard and pays more per kilo, or the opposite.”

Abattoirs pay sheep farmers to 0.5 of a kilo, meaning if the carcass weighs 19.8kg, a farmer would be paid for 19.5kg, whereas for cattle, the payment is to 0.1 of a kilo. Mr Royle knows farmers losing hundreds of pounds across their flock because of this system.

Sheep splitting win

He described the decision to allow farmers, market operators and abattoirs to use a defined cut-off date, rather than the presence of teeth, as an appropriate way to age sheep, as one of the board’s biggest wins.

“It was our report and our evidence which helped the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed support the idea of a cut-off date,” Mr Royle explained.

“Mr Eustice said it would be unlikely to have it this season but we will hold him to his commitment for October 2018. That will give us plenty of time to implement an alternative way of ageing for the 2019 season.”

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