UK environment minister Owen Paterson has been urged to “pull the finger out” to open up new export markets for Scotch beef.

Speaking at the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers’ conference, Scotland’s rural affairs secretary, Richard Lochhead, said he had been “flabbergasted” on a recent visit to Japan to discover that opening up access to the Japanese market was not considered a priority for the UK government.

“The potential for growth in Asia is staggering,” said Mr Lochhead. “This is a reserved issue, so we have to rely on DEFRA pushing hard on Scotland’s behalf. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

“Tokyo’s top chefs told us they want to serve Scotch beef as it’s the best in the world. The UK should pull the finger out and make that happen.”

He said DEFRA had claimed that lack of staff was the problem, but offers from the Scottish government to provide resources to secure accreditation for Scotch beef in Japan and other countries such as China, Russia and the USA had been ignored.

Export sales of Scotch beef to European markets so far this year were up 16% and Quality Meat Scotland said it was actively targeting new markets in the Nordic countries and Germany.

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