Scotland’s red meat promotional body Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) is stepping up pressure on the UK government for new legislation to allow the levy on Scottish stock slaughtered in England to be repatriated to Scotland.
QMS say Scotland is losing out on £1.5m of levy money because, under current legislation, levies have to be paid to the promotional organisations in the country where livestock are slaughtered, irrespective of where the stock comes from.
The Scottish move is backed by Welsh red meat levy body Hybu Cig Cymru, which is similarly disadvantaged.
The problem became more acute for Scotland following the closure of Vion’s meat plant at Broxburn, near Edinburgh, which left QMS £500,000 short of levy income because of a 3,000 head a week reduction in the number of pigs slaughtered north of the border, coupled with a continued decline in sheep slaughtering.
In recent weeks, QMS has raised the matter with UK farm minister David Heath and Scottish secretary Michael Moore, but to no avail.
“It could be a year before we know if the government is prepared to take action,” QMS chairman Jim McLaren admitted this week.
“We are pressing the government hard but we don’t yet know if their response will be positive or negative. Our income is being eroded and we are frustrated at the lack of progress in getting this lost levy returned.”
QMS was forced to trim promotional expenditure on all three species – beef, lamb and pork – when it became clear levy income would fall short of budget, although grant income for the year reached a record £1m.
2013 meat promotion
Despite the likelihood of a further fall in levy income, the organisation has announced an increased promotional budget for the current year of £6.22m, compared with £6.18m last year, thanks to an additional funding package of £1m to strengthen the Scotch brand, announced by Rural Affairs cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead at the NFU Scotland AGM in February.
The package had enabled QMS to allocate an additional £390,000 for beef, £250,000 for lamb and £200,000 for pork, with £160,000 going towards a three-year programme to improve the efficiency of Scottish pig production.
QMS head of marketing Laurent Vernet said the Scotch beef brand was benefiting from moves by consumers to pay more heed to the provenance of meat in the light of the horsemeat scandal.
Research had shown that a quarter of people surveyed planned to buy less processed meat and ready meals but only 3-5% intended to reduce their overall meat consumption. Red meat sales had increased by 5% and only burger and frozen meat sales had been hit by the scandal.
“Consumer trust in the Scotch brand has been reinforced and we have a fantastic story to tell in terms of the world leading quality assurance behind the Scotch label,” said Mr McLaren.