The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), National Beef Association, National Pig Association, National Sheep Association and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers have issued a joint letter to Jane King, CEO of AHDB, and George Eustice, minister for agriculture, regarding the sale.
Citing a “challenging business environment”, AHDB announced plans to sell-off MLCSL in March and transfer it from public to private-sector ownership.
In the letter, it said that “a large proportion of the meat and livestock industry have concerns about how this sale is being brokered and what terms of reference the new oversight body will be operating under”.
The co-signatories to the letter are calling for the sale to be put on hold and an industry working group to be set up to conduct a more inclusive and wide-ranging debate about the needs of industry, as well as the challenges AHDB faces in running MLCSL in its current form. It is felt that this will be the best way to shape an independent oversight body that is fit for purpose, has the appropriate terms of reference and serves the changing needs of the industry it is set up to evaluate.
“Many feel that AHDB has not consulted sufficiently with those who stand to be most affected, which is why we have asked that the sale negotiations be put on hold to allow industry to bring their needs and concerns to the table.”
Nick Allen, CEO of the BMPA, said the organisation “has, in the past, played a pivotal role in both the introduction and orderly roll-out of new technologies and practices. In its public capacity, it was able to ensure that new technology was not just rigorously scrutinized, but was also implemented in a consistent way across the whole industry”. He warned this might not be the case when it became a private company.
Allen added that “an open consultation will offer up useful insights and solutions that may have been missed up to now. But, more importantly, it will ensure that the future of MLCSL has been shaped, not by short-term commercial expediency, but by the long-term needs of the whole meat and livestock industry”.
In a statement to Food Manufacture, AHDB CEO Jane King said: “Unfortunately over the last few years, MLCSL has faced a substantial financial challenge to its business model as some of our large customers switched to VIA systems. The business has struggled to make a profit and the delivery of a comprehensive GB-wide manual classification service has become more difficult and challenging.
“After a year-long exhaustive review of the options, it became clear that the best way to secure the future of the business was to look for a private partner already working in the abattoir sector that would bring investment, secure greater efficiencies and synergies to reduce costs and, most importantly, it would ensure MLCSL was able to continue delivering a GB-wide service. These opportunities are simply not possible under the current public ownership model.
“We have close working partnerships with the organisations that have shared their concerns with us, we hear them and want to assure them that consultation will continue. A working group is meeting next month to discuss an oversight group to secure the continued independence of the service for the long-term benefit of the industry. The group includes meat processors, farming associations, trade bodies and other interested parties, and we are committed to working with them to secure the future of independent classification services.”