A farmer who has been a figurehead of the National Beef Association for 20 years said the viability of the organisation is on a knife edge following major financial losses and ‘no plan to turn it around’.
Bill Harper, who has served as a director, treasurer, TB committee chairman, Red Tractor representative and South West chairman, said the organisation had lost £70,000 in the last two years as a result of reduced membership fees and dwindling support from breed societies.
It also faces losing income from its lucrative exporting licencing service when the UK leaves the EU.
Mr Harper, who runs 450 cattle on the Devon-Cornwall border, also took aim at the lack of communication with members and in defending the industry against attacks on red meat in the national press.
“I have never seen the NBA so ineffective,” said Mr Harper, who highlighted the Tesco ‘meat free’ advert which he said required a strong response.
“We made no attempt to get into the mainstream press with our position and make the critical difference between fresh red meat and processed meats which currently are being erroneously lumped together.
“The cancer charities’ call for people to boycott meat in January was another example of all meat products being labelled carcinogenic and should have been strongly opposed using all available data to support our product and industry.
“I have not seen any output from ourselves on this issue and it has been left to George Dunn of the Tenant Farmers Association to write the letter we should have written.”
Speaking to Farmers Guardian after detailing his grievances in a letter to the board, Mr Harper said the NBA had failed to communicate to its members key points from a recent Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) hearing on beef prices.
“We are seeing a real split level marketplace that should have been highlighted - the current beef price is 320 p/kg DW and integrated/scheme cattle, albeit mainly Angus are being paid 380p/kg Dw,” said Mr Harper.
“Our challenge is to decide how to advise our farmers on the risks of integrated production and how to assess cost of production contracts.”
He also criticised the organisation’s lack of input around the climate change agenda.
“No one is explaining to the consumers that every hectare of grassland growing an average of 7.5 tonnes grass dry matter/year is taking around 3.3 tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere and converting it into meat and milk," he said.
“I am involved with some work looking at feed additives that will reduce methane output, an area with great potential that we should be involved with getting the message to consumers.”
He said he had also received abuse from members in the South West who did not accept they needed to become more efficient and acknowledge environmental issues.
A badger cull director, Mr Harper said his area had made great strides in bringing down the number of restricted herds from 86 to 20 after three years of culling, but the NBA had still not discussed with Defra the strategy when culling is planned to end next year.
The NBA has been approached for comment.
In a statement, NBA chairman Andrew Laughton said Mr Harper’s comments were ‘untruthful’, adding he thought he was tendering his resignation due to ’difficulties’ with some members in the South West.
He said: “The NBA is a small organisation, funded by membership fees, with only three members of staff.
“The resources available to the NBA are finite, and the NBA works as effectively as possible for members and the entire beef industry with its available resources.”
He added the association worked ‘tirelessly’ to achieve national media coverage in promoting beef and defending attacks against it.
“A weekly newsletter is circulated to all NBA members, detailing relevant industry news and information, as well as providing updates on activity undertaken on behalf of members,” said Mr Laughton.
“This activity, including the recent EFRA committee inquiry and other similar industry events, as well as media coverage, is also frequently communicated with members and other stakeholders through social media, which is public for all to see.”
Mr Laughton wished Mr Harper well in his future ventures and thanked him for his work and support over the last 20 years.