Owen Hembry

Business news editor of the New Zealand Herald

Attack on meat body astounds chairman

Mike Petersen. Photo / APN
Mike Petersen. Photo / APN

Beef and Lamb New Zealand chairman Mike Petersen says he is astonished by an attack on the body by former director Keith Cooper.

Cooper, chief executive of meat processor, procurement and marketing heavyweight Silver Fern Farms, yesterday resigned, effective immediately, as a director of Beef and Lamb and the New Zealand Meat Board.

"I have been unhappy for some time with the direction of Beef and Lamb, the continual intrusion into commercial activities, the divisive outcomes many of their initiatives are causing, coupled with proposals to spend levies and/or reserves in competition with the private sector and duplicating what is already being done or is available," Cooper said.

"Whilst I certainly believe farmers should invest by way of levies, the debate should be about who administers and who is accountable for those levies."

Cooper encouraged farmers to look at what candidates for an upcoming election for directors at both bodies were standing for and to vote for those who would challenge what was done by Beef and Lamb.

A continuation of what was an outdated model, in the form of a producer industry body with poor and unclear accountabilities, was not a sustainable way forward, he said.

The sector had a host of organisations crying out for aggregation.

"I am sure the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade [MFAT], NZ Trade and Enterprise along with the Meat Industry Association coupled with Federated Farmers can adequately and more cost-effectively support and maintain farmer channels to markets."

Petersen said Cooper's resignation was a surprise.

"I think it's an astonishing attack on a farmer organisation that's actually been voted in by farmers."

And the accusations were not correct, he said. "The companies that are dealing in the market, we don't interfere in that transaction at all."

Beef and Lamb helped fund some of the promotional activities of meat companies and their partners.

"The UK consumer programme is a classic example where the meat companies devised all the promotional programmes and they come to us and they seek matching funding ... of which Silver Fern Farms has been a significant beneficiary."

Beef and Lamb is funded through a farmer levy of about $25 million to $26 million a year, with budgeted spending in 2011/12 including 27 per cent for market development, 23 per cent for research and development and 10 per cent for market access.

"The organisation doesn't act independently of farmers, it's an extension of farmers and our farmer group tell us every day what they want us to do on their behalf," Petersen said.

MFAT would not invest in research projects for internal parasites on farms, he said.

"To suggest that just shows a lack of understanding about what's going to happen here."

Monthly market research showed satisfaction with the organisation continued to strengthen, he said.

Farmers got the chance every five years to vote Beef and Lamb either in or out of existence.

"Every year we have directors up for election so if you're talking about accountability, sorry, there's very few organisations that have the accountabilities that we have to deal with under the Commodity Levies Act."

Federated Farmers Meat and Fibre chairwoman Jeanette Maxwell said Beef and Lamb was doing a lot more on the ground at a local level.

" They have made a concerted effort to ... work with farmers more."

Meat melee
* Silver Fern Farms boss Keith Cooper has resigned as a director of Beef and Lamb New Zealand and is calling for a debate on farmer levies.
* Beef and Lamb chairman Mike Petersen says research shows satisfaction with the organisation is growing.
* Federated Farmers' Jeanette Maxwell says the industry body has made a concerted effort to work with farmers more.

- NZ Herald

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