scottish beef© Rex

The Scottish government has requested an investigation into the slump in fat cattle prices and speculation that foreign beef has been wrongly labelled as British meat in shops.

Scotland’s rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead has asked Quality Meat Scotland to find out why beef prices have fallen heavily since the start of the year.

He also asked the levy board to work with the Scottish food watchdog to explore whether the decline was linked to beef imports being packaged as UK meat.

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Mr Lochhead said he had met many farmers concerned about the sudden drop in the fat cattle trade.

“The speculation that imported meat is being passed off as a domestic product is a serious matter,” he said.

“The Scottish government has drawn this to the attention of Food Standards Scotland and have asked them to work with QMS to establish if any breach of the EU regulations is taking place.”

British beef prices have now fallen 25p/kg in 2015, with the all-prime average dropping another 3p/kg last week to 336.3p/kg.

The latest Eblex market report said the gap between UK and Irish beef has narrowed from 70p/kg to 50p/kg in the last month. But the difference remains high in historical context and could be adding to the downward pressure.

“Offering better prospects for the UK trade, Irish supplies are starting to show signs of slowing, meaning that the availability of cheaper Irish product could be on the verge of tightening,” the levy board said.

 QMS chairman Jim McClaren said there no evidence to suggest any wrong-doing.

“It is vital that everyone who plays a part in our beef industry – with its global reputation for quality – continues to work together to protect the integrity which underpins our product,” he said.

“Understandably, the difficult start to 2015 in terms of prime cattle prices has been a source of frustration and concern for cattle finishers, particuarly as many of the factors behind the easing of prices are outwith producers’ control.”