Eblex quizzed on levy rise

Meat marketers are being pressed for more information on plans that could see the English beef and lamb levy raised by almost 20% for the first time in a decade.

Farming leaders and processors are calling on Eblex to publish more details about where the proposed extra £2m windfall from the raised levy will be spent. Eblex said the extra money would be invested in boosting exports, as well as showcasing the benefits of eating red meat.

NFU chief livestock adviser John Mercer said: “We acknowledge the good work Eblex is doing and it is recognised that export opportunities are key to the future of both beef and lamb. However, in order to better understand what impact this potential levy increase will have on the industry, we need to see a clear business plan, with unambiguous performance indicators and set targets.”

The proposed increase, which will see the statutory sheep levy climb by 13p, and beef up 83p, is part of the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board’s (AHDB’s) corporate plan, which is subject to open consultation until 6 January 2011. Eblex said the extra funds would be used to maintain sheep meat exports at a minimum of 30% of production, while increasing beef exports from 10% to 20% of production by 2012. There is also a target to increase exports of fifth-quarter products by 50% and open new markets for UK exporters.

Nick Allen, Eblex sector director, said: “All this work is in addition to our existing work in these areas, which is seeing resources stretched increasingly thin, while maintaining current projects in research and development, marketing, regional events and the Better Returns Programme. It is the first time in 10 years that Eblex has proposed a change in the levy. Since then, our purchasing power has fallen by around 30% in real terms, absorbed through efficiencies internally.”

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “Eblex proposes to spend the bulk of the extra income on boosting exports. That’s fine if this translates into higher end prices and more sustainable margins through the supply chain. What we must avoid is a situation where processors simply find themselves squeezed between higher producer prices and unchanged returns from customers.”

Norman Bagley, policy director of AIMS, added: “If the money is ring-fenced to continue some of the excellent work Eblex has done in our sector over the last few years then I’m in support. But if there’s any chance of it being siphoned off to support empire-building at AHDB then I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.”

>>Eblex announces levy rise

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