3 August 2001

Vow to redefine Scotch beef gets cool response

IF it says Scotch beef on the pack, does that mean the cattle were Scottish? That is one of the issues the Scottish Executive is determined to address, believing that any beef labelled as Scotch must come from cattle born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland.

But Brian Pack, chief executive of the ANM Group, which is involved in livestock auction markets and meat processing, believes the move could create a shortage of Scotch beef.

"We are getting a premium of about 27p/kg for Scotch beef compared with the GB average price. Why deprive Scottish farmers of the right to add value to animals born in England?"

Speaking at a Harbro Farm Sales beef conference in Inverness, Mr Pack said as long as cattle spend the last 90 days of their lives in Scotland and are then slaughtered in a Scottish abattoir, the meat can be labelled as Scotch – as approved by the EU.

Farm minister Ross Finnie, however, believes that stricter labelling laws will not allow this practice to continue. About 15% of the beef sold under the Specially Selected Scotch beef label comes from cattle born in England.

John Ross, MLC commissioner and former chairman of the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association, agreed with Mr Pack. "What is often lost in the debate is that the cattle have to be top quality to be sold under the Specially Selected Scotch brand, regardless of where they come from.

"And quality cattle give consumers a much better chance of better eating quality. We are selling a quality product and we must be very careful not to risk throwing away something that has worked remarkably well for us," said Mr Ross.

Mr Pack added that any shortage of Scotch beef would increase the premium further. "But there is a real risk, even with current premiums, that we force our customers to look for alternative sources of beef. I dont believe a higher premium would be sustainable in the long term."