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MLA, the Travelling Wilbury Show!

MLA had just completed their produce forum in Queensland.

Richard Norton, MLA’s general manager, makes very interesting points.

Mr Norton said one of the issues identified at the annual general meeting last month was the fact that less than 2% of the levy payers actually voted and even fewer attended the meeting. I’m puzzled how Mr Norton had come up with figure of 2% as MLA admits openly that it cannot identify all levy payers, perhaps he means that 2% of producers that have actually joined up to MLA.

Why would anybody try to actually vote? Three vacancies for directors on the board of MLA and three people put up to fill those positions; this is what I call a Clayton’s election. If this is not bad enough it’s reported one person has been offered a position on the selection panel by a senior board member. Secondly, why would anybody attend an AGM which is stage-managed and those in attendance are given a lecture on what a great job the MLA is doing?

According to Mr Norton 85% of producers think MLA is an industry representative. He goes on to say that MLA is not a representative organisation, it does not collect all levies and processors do not dominate the votes.

Mr Norton is correct. MLA was set up for R&D and marketing. MLA does not collect all levies, again he is correct, however the MLA collects the lion’s share of the $5 levy, of which $3.66 is for marketing and $0.92 for R&D while Animal Health Australia gets $0.13 and Residue Testing gets $0.29 which means MLA is collecting more than 90% of the five dollar levy. Processors do not dominate the vote, it would be interesting to see of the total votes cast how many were cast by processors and corporate producers. I wonder if Mr Norton would like to enlighten us.

The stream in which levies come in is how they must be spent. So much comes from grass fed producers and that should be spent that on grass fed industry. While so much comes from grain fed and that proportion must be spent on the grain fed industry. The point is the MLA omits to tell us that the processors refuse to pay towards MLA marketing and that supermarkets arguably are the biggest beneficiaries of MLA marketing who also contribute nothing towards the MLA upkeep. The fact is that processors have their own service organisation ($50M retained earnings) and an agreement which obliges them to make a CONTRIBUTION towards the MLA with full control over any funding. This is in contrast to producers who pay a statutory levy into the MLA but MLA then decide how those levies will be spent. Much is made of producer input into MLA decisions but the fact is CCA is the peak Council for grass fed cattle producers and MLA gives them money ($750,000 half CCA budget) for their service work which is a complete conflict of interest. This makes CCA totally subservient to the MLA while in contrast the processors and live shippers have service organisations of their own to ensure they get a fair deal.

MLA says they have a few successes worth celebrating. MSA is still the number one program for MLA and the consumer is the most important aspect of the value chain. The MSA index allows a rating from 30 to 80 points – the higher the better, introduced last year has seen 3.3 million cattle graded. The fact is when a consumer goes to buy MSA meat one day he could buy a piece of meat that would have scored 80 points (cut with butter knife) and next purchase a steak that has fallen over the line at 30 points which could be a very tough and a chain saw required to cut.

 The fact is that MSA has been watered down to attract more numbers which it has done with some success. However the fact is consumer dissatisfaction has risen drastically, which must be a factor in the consumption of beef dropping drastically. Yes MLA has a lot to answer for and talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. Window dressing only goes so far and for so long.

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