Preferred bidder offers reassurances about MLCSL prices

The private company set to take on the role of carcase grading from AHDB has sought to reassure pig producers that it is not planning to raise charges.

Addressing the latest NPA Producer Group meeting, Leigh Grant (pictured), HallMark Veterinary Compliance Services business development director, stressed that the company’s acquisition of AHDB subsidiary Meat and Livestock Commercial Services Limited (MLCSL) is ‘not a done deal’.

Hallmark is the preferred bidder for the business that provides authentication services to 44 meat processing plants and Mr Leigh said MLCSL would be ‘a perfect fit’, tying in with the firm’s experience and strengths.

He sought to address some of the issues about the potential deal raised by the group, including concerns about Hallmark’s ability to deliver the service and fears it could push up prices.

“We feel very confident that if we are successful in buying MLCSL, it will be pretty much seamless in terms of retaining exactly the same staff and locations,” he said.

“We don’t envisage immediately going in and putting up prices. There certainly there is no plan to increase prices. We see so many strategic opportunities, it is not in our interest to go in and upset the marketplace.”

While PG remained sceptical, expressing concerns the company might have to raise prices to justify the deal, Mr Leigh said Hallmark would make savings by running the service more effectively than is the case under AHDB ownership. He said Hallmark would be in a position to ‘drive down costs’ within MLCSL, particularly back office functions.

He also addressed concerns over the loss of independence of MLCSL under private ownership. There are industry-wide talks underway to establish a ‘governance or standards board’ of industry representatives to monitor Hallmark’s work, he said.

Hallmark’s contract to run the British Pig Health Scheme was not renewed in the autumn, following issues with the baseline data, but the company is in the running to resume the role, which is currently being re-tendered. Under questioning from PG, he said there could be some benefits if Hallmark was successful in the bid to run scheme, alongside ownership of MLCSL.

Mr Leigh gave some background to the Gloucestershire-based company, which, established in 2002, carries out a range of compliance services for public and private sector bodies, including Defra, APHA, the Rural Payments Agency, the Food Standards Agency, AHDB and various veterinary organisations.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.