Farm assurance will be more important than ever as the red meat industry recovers from the horsemeat scandal, according to speakers at NFU Scotland’s (NFUS) AGM.

The industry should see the horsemeat scandal as an opportunity to go out and communicate the quality and high standards of Scotch beef, said Scotland Food and Drink chief executive James Withers, speaking at the conference in St Andrews, Fife, on Monday (11 December).

Farm assurance was vital, but it needed to stretch beyond the point of slaughter to ensure further meat scandals didn’t happen, he said.

“Farm assurance underpins our brand and prepares us for the next scandal, to go out and share our story, and show people our standards,” added Mr Withers.

He said the decision by Sainsbury’s, last year, to ditch the Red Tractor label was an example of supermarkets investing in their own brands, in the hope that consumers would automatically value them.

“The independence of farm assurance and accreditation is more important now than it has been.”
James Withers, Scotland Food and Drink’s chief executive

“I don’t think they will do that now,” he said. “The independence of farm assurance and accreditation is more important now than it has been. We don’t have it past the point of kill and that’s what has been abused. Going forward, investment is going to be critical.”

He urged farmers to invest in their businesses because to succeed with promotion of the Scotch beef brand, the raw material was needed.

This was reiterated by Quality Meat Scotland chairman, Jim McLaren, who urged farmers to work on reversing the trend of declining livestock numbers.

“Without a critical mass of stock numbers in Scotland, we cannot supply emerging markets. The demand for our product is intensifying and we need your support to deliver that,” he said.

“Consumers need to look at where they do have confidence in the supply chain and buy from that – I believe we can profit from provenance.”

Earlier on in the day, NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller called on retailers and food manufacturers to put the provenance and integrity of their products before profit.

“The clear message for retailers and food manufacturers out of this whole debacle is that food production must not be focused purely on profit – people clearly care about the provenance of their food,” he said.

The longer the supply chain, the more difficult it was to audit the whole process, added Mr Miller.

“More robust checks and balances must be rapidly introduced if we are to avoid having our Scottish industry undermined in this manner in the future.”

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