The latest from Farmers Guardian editor, Ben Briggs.
Moves by AHDB to offload Meat and Livestock Commercial Services (MLCS) to HallMark have raised a number of questions about the concept of independence and impartiality within the agricultural supply chain.
While no-one is questioning the competence of HallMark, AHDB’s decision has led some farmers and meat processors to ask whether the independence of graders, responsible for EUROP grid classifications, could be maintained in private hands.
Sources have spoken to Farmers Guardian expressing fears the graders’ independence could be lost, especially if they feel they are being cowed by processor paymasters who may potentially disagree with some of their decisions. As many farmers will testify, it is not like processors to be commercially cut throat, is it?
Questions also have to be asked of statements from AHDB which seek to claim a private company is better placed to invest in meat processing technology, such as video imaging analysis (VIA). Take away the fact some in the red meat sector remain unconvinced by VIA, if it truly is a technology which helps farmers’ bottom lines, surely it represents the very essence of what the levy board should be investing in.
Will red meat levy payers now be asking to pay less to AHDB once MLCS is no longer part of the equation?
Offloading publicly owned bodies to private companies will come as no surprise under a Conservative Government ideologically hard-wired to privatisation since the days of Margaret Thatcher.
Yet some are questioning whether it will mark a wider and continued trend of offloading public assets, especially with the extra workload Brexit will bring, the fact budgets are being squeezed across Government departments and a Chancellor in Philip Hammond, who is reluctant to release extra cash as he looks to pay down national debt.
Maintaining the highest standards and principles within the food supply chain are absolutely key as we head into politically uncharted waters. Brexit offers the chance for Britain to become more self sufficient in its use of food, but for this to become a reality, transparency and independence from farm gate to retail shelves must not be compromised.