Conflict of opinion over Scotch beef promotion
By Shelley Wright Scotland correspondent
BICKERING over the labelling of Scotch beef has been an issue causing considerable tension this year.
But Quality Meat Scotland, the red meat promotion body, is determined to end any confusion among consumers about the origin of beef sold under the Specially Selected Scotch brand.
From July 2003, QMS has announced that only beef from animals born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland will be allowed to carry the brand label.
The move could cost Scotlands beef producers more than £50m a year, claims Brian Pack, chief executive of ANM, Scotlands largest farmer-owned auction and meat processing business.
And Maitland Mackie, chairman of SAC, has dismissed it as "a daft and short-sighted idea".
Many other Scottish products, from soups to shortbread, use the Scottish tag as a marketing tool. Yet no one suggests that their raw materials should be produced exclusively in Scotland, Dr Mackie says.
The Scotch whisky industry is another example, with malting barley from Scotland often supplemented by supplies from England or abroad.
Currently, an EU-approved scheme operates which allows beef from cattle sourced from outside Scotland to be sold as "Specially Selected Scotch" – a brand that carries a significant premium – as long as the animal had spent a minimum of 90 days in the country before slaughter.
But a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority early this year brought the issue to a head and QMS announced that, to protect the integrity of the brand, it would move to stop the 90-day rule being applied.
Mr Pack says the loss to finishers of withdrawing the "Specially Selected Scotch" label from 80,000 cattle a year that are bought outside Scotland will be about £56m.
"And the loss to the Scottish economy will be even higher when the added-value from further processing is taken into account," he says.
The consequent reduction in output of Scotch beef will have big implications for all involved, he argues. "The Scotch brand will become a small niche brand with no opportunity, because of suckler cow quota, to expand to meet any growth in the market."
The move is absolute nonsense, says Mr Pack. "It is an own goal to the Scottish economy."
But NFU Scotland president, Jim Walker, who has recently been appointed to the board of QMS, defends the change. Consumer perception, he says, is critical to the future of farming.
Consumers believe that "Specially Selected Scotch" means that animals are Scottish through and through. "The absolute priority is to protect the brand. So if that is what consumers believe, that is exactly what we must give them," he says. *
SAC chairman Maitland Mackie is at odds with Quality Meat Scotlands plans for the Specially Selected Scotch brand.