Row erupts over AHDB

A row has erupted over the direction of the new levy organisation - the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

A group of livestock associations has attacked both the AHDB and the National Farmers' Union, claiming it is proposing to use English beef and sheep farmers' levy money collectively for all sectors of GB agriculture.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, the Livestock Auctioneers Association, the National Beef Association and the National Sheep Association have released a statement that accuses the AHDB of moving towards a 'super' levy board, controlling major areas of expenditure with very limited responsibilities being handed down to individual sector groups, such as EBLEX. The organisations claim the NFU is supporting this development. The statement said: "AHDB has [engineered] a centralising move to Stoneleigh, putting the experienced and skilled staff base in all existing levy boards at risk.

"Now the NFU is already seemingly promoting the centralising the agenda of its new neighbours. The specialist livestock organisations do not believe this is in the best interests of English beef and sheep levy payers."

A key concern for the livestock associations is that research and development money could be used to fund activities in other areas and not benefit the meat sector.

The statement also attacked the suggestion of an overall adoption of the Red Tractor scheme: "The NFU has already publicly stated it wants levies earmarked for marketing to be used exclusively to support the development of one logo that would cover all sectors.

"One logo, presumably the Red Tractor, might feel comfortable for them, but the reality is that moving towards this even more supermarket-orientated marketing strategy would, for the livestock sector, reduce the number of buyers looking for assured stock in our auction markets, weaken vital export opportunities and place downward pressure on prices.

"In both cases it will be the English livestock industry that ends up paying for everyone else's benefit."

However, the statement has been greeted with disappointment by the NFU. President Peter Kendall said it was mischievous and untrue to suggest that the NFU was arguing for English livestock farmers' levies to be used for other sectors. "We have always argued that the levies paid by any one sector should be ring-fenced for spending within that sector. These organisations know that perfectly well.

"They have turned down our offer of a meeting and instead issued a highly inflammatory statement which appears to have been designed to stir up as much trouble as possible. I am deeply disappointed by the way in which they have approached this issue."

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has also hit out at the associations' actions. BMPA director Stuart Roberts said: "It is incredible that four organisations, which claim to represent the English livestock industry, can all be so ill-informed. The Statutory Instrument, which establishes the AHDB, makes it illegal for levy money collected from one sector to be spent on another sector. To misrepresent the current stance for their own publicity does absolutely nothing to help the industry.

"We wholeheartedly agree with the organisations that levy money should be used to the benefit of everyone who earns their living from the cattle and sheep industry. The four industry bodies need to understand that the majority of British meat is sold through multiple retailers and the organisations need to ask themselves a serious question about how they we can ensure this important sector is included in the development of future levy activities.

"The time is long overdue to stop bickering and start addressing some of the real issues the entire industry faces over the coming months and years."

John Bridge, chairman of the AHDB, added there appeared to be a distinct lack of understanding among some English beef and sheep stakeholders on how the new levy board structure will operate.

He said: "Yes, AHDB currently has sub-groups exploring if there are any potential efficiency or effectiveness gains to be found from delivering aspects of the R&D and/or marketing strategies on a collaborative basis.

"The fact is the vast majority of R&D is near to market activity best delivered at a sector level, but that does not mean mechanisms to enable collaboration, where appropriate, should not be explored. In the area of marketing, the sub-group is looking at a range of areas including promotion of farm assurance and quality marks. This is all still work in progress.

"I am saddened that these important specialist beef and sheep stakeholder organisations did not come and raise their misplaced concerns with me or their board representative, John Cross of EBLEX. AHDB will willingly meet them to discuss these matters - they only need to ask."

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