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Meat NZ and SheepCo chairs respond to Hilson adverts

Meat New Zealand chairman Jeff Grant has today responded to the advertisements recently placed by the One-Stop Ram Shop in rural newspapers telling farmers to vote against the meat and wool levy proposals.

Let's state the facts of the matter, Grant said. "It has been claimed that $240-300 million of expenditure is proposed. Whereas the facts are that the proposal is for $37.3 million per year for five years. $31.5 million from the four levies on meat and wool, and the balance from interest on reserves. This is on behalf of an industry with an annual turnover of six billion dollars. By international standards, this is a small levy."

It's also claimed that trade access is not the producer's responsibility, Grant said. "Fact is that lobbying for current and future access is critical for sheep and beef farmers. Currently 70 percent of beef and sheepmeat exported goes into a quota market. All industries; including fisheries, dairy, wine, horticulture and forestry etc lobby the government to argue their case for export opportunities offshore."

Another claim is that $18.7 million per year is wasted on research and development, Grant said. "Fact's show that meat and wool farmer-funded research has not increased since 1990, but is still able to leverage eight dollars for every one dollar from levies. This leverage comes from both government and company contributions. Future research would stop on a no vote."

In terms of market development, the advertisements claim it is the exporters job with help from government. "The government does not fund market development for red meat. The proposal is for farmers to jointly fund this area with the companies that represent 80-90 percent of all beef and sheepmeat exported."

There are three examples of market development programmes, Grant said. "In the domestic market, levy funding is $1.5 million, the industry $1.2 million. The UK lamb leg programme; $6 million companies, $4 million levies. Manufacturing beef programme; $1.5 million companies, $1.2 million levies."

Grant also disagrees with the claims that the transitional board was self appointed and secret. "The fact is the transition board outline was released May 4 in the summary of the draft constitution for the single organisation, and updated on farmer feedback to reflect a desire for a speedier transition. Now three farmer-elected positions will be elected prior to single organisation starting July 1 2004, and three will be elected within the first twelve months of the organisation starting.

It has also been claimed that a registered company is inflexible and non-transparent. Grant said the new organisation will be established under the 1993 Companies Act, which gives far greater accountability and transparency to farmers than is possible under the Incorporated Society Act 1908. "The single organisation's constitution can be changed annually by farmers at the AGM," he said.

Another claim been made is that a pastoral board could be established within 5 months. "This is absolute nonsense", Grant said. "The Commodity Levies Act process takes well over 10-11 months to implement. The process carried out by SheepCo and Meat New Zealand has been the largest consultative process in establishing a new organisation under the CLA."

This proposal has not been rushed, Grant said. "Myself and SheepCo chairman Mike Petersen have fronted up to over 100 workshops and meetings with farmers (up to 5,000 farmers in total) in the last eight months, along with written submissions and surveys to provide a proposal that best reflects farmers views for a future organisation."

Grant said the claims made that meat and wool levies could continue after a no vote are also incorrect. "If farmers say no to the proposal, they mean no, and SheepCo and Meat NZ will be disestablished and levies will not be collected from the second half of 2004. So all trade access, R & D and market development work would stop then."

Grant and Petersen said they are personally disappointed that Mr Hilson has not made the effort to attend at least one of the five meetings in the Hawkes Bay/Wairarapa area in the last round. "Mr Hilson would have gained a better appreciation of the red meat and wool proposal at any one of these meetings, and probably understood the strong support the proposals have gained in recent months with sheep and beef farmers," Grant said.

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