New agricultural levy board set to plough a lone furrow

The agricultural landscape has been through significant changes in recent years, so it comes as no surprise that the statutory levy bodies that support the industry are now facing a radical overhaul as well.

The agricultural landscape has been through significant changes in recent years, so it comes as no surprise that the statutory levy bodies that support the industry are now facing a radical overhaul as well.

The five bodies – the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC), the Horticultural Development Council, the Home Grown Cereal Authority, the British Potato Council and the Milk Development Council – will be replaced by one overarching levy body with sector-specific companies working beneath it. The new board will be in place by April 2008.

The Radcliffe Report recommends retaining the statutory levy because of widespread support from farmers and growers. The new chairman, due to be appointed early next year, will decide how to spend the money and develop a framework of activities under an initiative called Fresh Start.

More bang for its buck

The MLC is the biggest of the bodies involved in the review and is the biggest advertiser. The body receives the largest income from levies, at &£26.3m a year, but this is split across four devolved groups – English Beef and Lamb Executive (Eblex), British Pig Executive (BPEX), Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales).

Eblex and BPEX, which are the key promotional bodies for red meat, will operate as companies under the new body, but the Scottish and Welsh boards – currently under the MLC’s remit – are also under review and will set up separate bodies.

Guy Attenborough, the MLC head of communications, says the MLC is in agreement with the planned changes. He explains: “The MLC was set up in 1968, but agriculture has changed a lot since then. It was the right time to look at the boards and the legislation that defines them.”

Attenborough believes the new board will have greater clout and will offer “more bang for our buck”. But industry insiders are concerned that the meat industry and farmers could lose out when it comes to marketing and advertising spend.

The MLC’s general levy for industry work is to stay, but the separate promotional levy will be axed as a result of the new structure. The new body will be responsible for the advertising spend for each sector.

One insider points out that following the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises, marketing and advertising that focused on the quality of British meat was integral to its recovery. The MLC has increased its marketing activity in recent years. Last year, Eblex spent &£4.5m on a TV campaign to encourage consumers to buy British meat and in 2004 BPEX ran a press campaign to encourage women to eat more pork. Sales of red meat are now at the highest level for 20 years, with 2.76m tonnes expected to be sold this year. The MLC

has a five-strong roster of agencies – DDB London, Leo Burnett, TBWA/London, Fallon and Publicis – and Attenborough says that the existing contracts are due to run until 2009. Leo Burnett and DDB have been working with Eblex and BPEX respectively, but it is not clear how much money they will receive in the future.

Leave on a high

Not all of the bodies approve of the changes. The Horticultural Development Council says the review overlooks the needs of growers, but Attenborough claims it is a good time for the MLC to bow out, as it leaves the industry in a strong position.

He says: “It has brought the red meat sector through some enormous crises that would have crippled others. It will be leaving the industry in an incredibly robust position, enabling it to cope with the changes.”

Caroline Parry

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