A number of industry bodies, including the NPA, have joined forces in expressing concern over the planned sale of AHDB’s carcase grading services to a private sector company.
In March, AHDB said it was in ‘advanced talks’ with Hallmark Veterinary Compliance Services about the sale of its commercial subsidiary Meat and Livestock Commercial Services Limited (MLCSL), which provides authentication services to 44 meat processing plants.
This has raised a number of issues within the farming and meat sectors. The NPA has joined forces with other industry bodies – the British Meat Processors Association, the National Sheep Association, the National Beef Association and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers – in sending joint letters to AHDB CEO Jane King and Farming Minister George Eustice.
The letters calls for an independent oversight body to be established to agree terms of reference and future strategy for the service going forwards. It also asks for a working group meeting to be held, so that the industry can be consulted about its needs and concerns ahead of any deal being agreed.
AHDB said moving MLCSL to the private sector would deliver ‘synergies and efficiencies not possible under the current public ownership model’ and said the board put a strong emphasis on Hallmark’s track record of delivering independent services for Government and the meat industry.
Producer Group concerns
A number of concerns were raised at the last NPA Producer Group meeting, including the lack of industry consultation prior to the decision being made and concerns that levy payers would lose control of the service if it moved into private hands.
The group also sought assurances that the move would not result in higher charges for producers. There were also questions over the suitability of Hallmark, after AHDB ended its contract to run the British Pig Health Service (BPHS) in November following concerns over the robustness of data collected at abattoirs.
AHDB Pork strategy director Mick Sloyan acknowledged that the process could have been communicated better, but said it was difficult to comment publicly while trying to sell a business, which is a complicated process.
He insisted the move would be in the best interests of the industry, given how the company is currently performing financially.
Mr Sloyan explained that the classification services would continue to be performed by current MLCSL staff, which would all move over, and defended Hallmark’s past record, adding that the issue with BPHS was not down to Hallmark’s competence.
In recognition of the loss of levy payer oversight, he said there were plans to set an oversight body, giving the industry the opportunity to scrutinise the service. The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will also continue to provide oversight of the classification services.
Nonetheless, the PG expressed ‘strong concerns’ about the move, which have been echoed by other farming and meat industry bodies and asked chief executive Zoe Davies to write to AHDB to outline them.