We signed up as members of MLA a year or two ago. We did this as part of accessing National Vendor Declaration booklets. Completing and making available these declarations are the primary mechanism for complying with legislation - providing (quality) assurance to purchasers of any livestock we sell in respect of, for example, how long it has been since we may have applied some form or other of chemicals onto or into our stock for health reasons. The ‘buzz words’ are ‘Withholding Periods’; that is, we have to (with) hold the stock on the property for varying periods (depending on the treatments) prior to selling or transporting them to ensure that any animals (including we humans) who end up eating the meat and by-products are not adversely impacted. In my view this is a very valid and necessary process.
Until this last correspondence yesterday I have had two additional periods of time when I’ve looked into MLA. The first was seeing what free publications and services they offer. From this I now receive an emailed glossy newsletter at the end of each week which tells me what’s happening in the livestock marketing scene in Australia. The second was reading material inviting members with ‘voting rights’ to cast a vote for directors as part of the annual process. In reading this material it was illuminating to see that the MLA Board has in place a mechanism that allows it to filter out any possible Board nominees that might have ‘radical’ and different views to those who are already on the Board (my interpretation, not theirs). Both nominees for the vacant Board positions at that time were large feedlot operators. The overall composition of the Board is ‘the big guys’ in the industry.
In the material received yesterday the instruction line near the top of the ‘Levies Notice 2008-09’ reads “To secure your full voting entitlements: Complete * Sign * Return by 6 October”. The information requested is basically figures on how many animals of varying types we’d sold during the period 1/7/2008 to 30/6/2009 together with the $ value of ‘transaction levies’ paid. A supporting document gave a summary of the nature and amount of levies that are charged when stock are sold through selling agents. With sheep the breakdown of levies is:
- MLA (R&D) - 0.77 % of sale price
- MLA (Marketing) – 0.87 % of sales price
- Animal Health Australia – 0.18 % of sale price (See http://www.animalhealthaustralia.com.au). The company profile states “Animal Health Australia (AHA) is a not-for-profit public company established by the Australian, state and territory governments and major national livestock industry organisations. The company's mission is to ensure that the national animal health system delivers a competitive advantage and preferred market access for Australia's livestock industries.” And “There are 8 major programs managed by the company: 1. Animal Disease Surveillance. 2. Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness 3. Animal Health Services 4. Disease Risk Mitigation 5. Livestock Welfare 6. Training 7. Communications and Information Management 8. Corporate Activities.”
- National Residue Survey – 0.11 % of sale price. See http://www.daff.gov.au/agriculture-food/nrs. This is run by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Quoting from their website: “NRS monitors residues of agricultural and veterinary chemicals and environmental contaminants in Australian food commodities”
- Total levies – 2 % of sale price.
I rang one of the 1800 numbers in the literature to find out what I was being asked to do and what the implication were if I did nothing. Basically what I’d received was a survey which would form the basis of how much ‘power’ I’d have in voting on MLA matters. The greater the levies paid when selling stock the more votes we get. This is another way in which the ‘big boys’ get to continue to go along their merry way without fear of small players making any noise. Whilst good for them it does suggest that MLA is most likely a dull and staid entity that does not need to do much other than care for the interests of the big players. By not completing and submitting the ‘Levies Notice’ it simply means I’m unable to vote. Given we are small players anyway there is no point in taking further action so I’ve filed the material received yesterday in the WPB.
One observation that comes to mind from the above is understanding why there is a fairly active market in selling outside the saleyard and agent system.