Farmers could be one step closer to having more say over how AHDB levies are spent as MPs open an inquiry into the work of the board.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee is set to look closely at the role of AHDB as part of its new probe into the future of ‘Brand Britain’.
The inquiry will consider whether lessons can be learnt from New Zealand, where a body elected by farmers decides how to spend any cash.
Chair of the committee Neil Parish said: “I have got to be careful I do not second-guess which way the report goes, but we will be looking at the New Zealand model where farmers are actually much more in charge of their own levy boards.
“There could well be an argument for this. Government actually may not be averse to it, because farmers will then be much more in command of their own destiny. It may suit both the farmer and the Government as well.”
Industry has been questioning whether the board is spending enough money on promoting British food for several years, and the concern has been ratcheted up since the vote to leave the EU.
“At the moment, AHDB spends quite a lot of money on research”, Mr Parish said.
“In the new agricultural world, this will be necessary, but we also want to make sure there is some promotion and farmers are getting value for money.”
In 2015, AHDB chair Peter Kendall suggested the board’s small budget would not allow it to compete with big brand promotional campaigns.
His comments followed the resignation of Stuart Roberts, now NFU vice president, as AHDB beef and lamb chairman.
Mr Roberts said he felt compelled to stand down because the Government was ‘getting more involved’ with decisions about how levy payers’ money was spent – a problem the New Zealand model could avoid.
But Christine Watts, AHDB’s chief communications officer, told Farmers Guardian the board would be spending around £25 million on communications and marketing this year out of a total budget of around £60 million.
“We would welcome the opportunity to back brand Britain but, currently, European State Aid rules prevent this, hence the promotion work we do is product-based rather than driven by country of origin.
“Brexit could change that, which may then prompt our boards to revisit the allocation of funds to promotion, but we are not yet in that place so continue to promote in line with the AHDB long-term strategy.
“A new piece of research to be published by AHDB this week into consumer attitudes towards brand Britain highlights that, while sentiment towards buying British remains strong, price is a key issue and a price differential of more than 10 per cent will see people purchasing other products over British.”
She added AHDB would welcome an open discussion with committee members on all its marketing activities and the wider work it carries out for farmers, growers and the supply chain.