Red-meat concerns get huge support

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 25/03/2013

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A massive turnout of farmers at a meeting in Gore last week has prompted a newly-formed meat industry group to generate support from as far away as the North Island, but organisers say one meat company has since adopted a defensive attitude.

About 1000 farmers attended the Meat Industry Excellence Group's first meeting in Gore on Monday to discuss the challenges facing the red meat industry.

The group talked about problems such as the structure of the industry, procurement and marketing issues, and commitment of farmer supply of livestock.

Meat Industry Excellence Group spokesman Allan Richardson said the massive turnout at the meeting had given the group confidence to move forward and gain support from throughout New Zealand.

"If we didn't get support, it wouldn't be worth doing. We need to get nationwide support and move this further," he said.

More meetings would be organised in the next month, starting in Canterbury and moving to the North Island, Mr Richardson said.

Another group spokesman, Gerry Eckhoff, said contrary to discussions on Monday, Silver Fern Farms sent invitations, two days after the meeting, to a "select group" of suppliers to a reference group workshop next week.

There was a mandate from farmers at the Gore meeting for more transparency, openness and equality in the co-operatives, he said.

"I can't see why everyone is not involved. They have retreated inside the castle, the castle of Silver Fern, and hauled up the drawbridge with selected suppliers," Mr Eckhoff said.

Farmers were concerned about the special deals and treatment given to some suppliers, and the recent invitation did not help confidence for the future, he said.

However, Silver Fern Farms chief executive Keith Cooper said the company had been holding about 70 focus groups throughout the country for about 18 months as a way to interact with suppliers.

It was business as usual and next week's focus group had been in the pipeline since December, he said.

"We try to ensure over a period of time we get to our main suppliers," Mr Cooper said.

The company would continue to work with others on industry reform as it had done for "many months".

Any changes had to be made in the best interests of shareholders - and the people at the Gore meeting were not necessarily shareholders, he said.

"Quite a few were probably not shareholders in the two co-ops.

"We've got to act in our shareholders' interests. Any outcomes have to be commercially sound and driven."

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