Farmers 'will reap rewards of single board'
MODERN farming and bureaucracy appear to go hand-in-hand, but there are signs that some serious savings can be made following the bringing together of the handful of statutory organisations that extract levies from farmers to the tune of £50 million a year.
One of the consequences of the horrendous foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2001 was the setting up of a wide-ranging investigation into the operations of the food chain. Professor Rosemary Radcliffe, a distinguished academic with considerable experience in the food industry, was charged with deciding whether the agricultural industry still needed the services of five levy-garnering organisations covering red meat, potatoes, horticulture, cereals, and milk might not be better served by some form of mutual co-operation.
Radcliffe decided that the regime was less than cost-effective. It has taken almost two years to unwind the old boards, but as from 1 April this year the former quangos have been effectively united under the new moniker of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).
John Bridge, chairman of the AHDB, was in Edinburgh yesterday. He said: "It is clear that the wider agricultural industry will be better served with one organisation, but we will still have sector boards that can address the specific needs of their members and levy-payers."
The red meat sector north of the Border is now almost exclusively under the remit of Quality Meat Scotland, but there will still be some linkage with AHDB: that makes sound sense in terms of research and development projects.
However, there is likely to be opposition to any suggestion of having a single UK food brand. The "Red Tractor" is widely promoted throughout the UK to some effect, but the reality is that food can be imported and subsequently processed and sold as being "British".
That does not stand well from the Scottish perspective, where all Scottish-labelled red meat must be born, reared and processed in Scotland.
Questioned on this issue, Bridge said that to go straight down the line of solely promoting British food would be in breach of EU regulations.
Scotland is clearly lucky in that many products come under the complex Protected Geographical Indicator rules. PGI status is highly valued and granted to a relatively few specialist regions of the EU.
'Uel Morton, chief executive of Quality Meat Scotland the promotional body that has done so much for the red meat sector, said: "We are quite relaxed about the levy board changes. We have an annual budget of 4.2 million from our levy payers and we are determined to promote the iconic image of Scotch beef, lamb and pork. However, we are happy to work with AHDB and will collaborate in our mutual interests."
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