Handled properly, the UK’s exit from the EU could be a stepping stone to increased food and drink exports – but handled badly Scotland’s farmland will become an unproductive and unprofitable drain on the country’s resources.
That was the message given to rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing when he met the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).
Warning that the massive contribution which the country’s farming industry made towards prosperity and employment stood in the balance, the association said that failing to provide support to ensure continued supplies of beef and lamb could lead to the death of the country’s red meat industry.
Following the meeting with the Scottish Government, SAMW president, Allan Jess, said: “Scotland’s red meat industry can only survive and prosper if sufficient raw material supplies continue to be made available.”
He said that it was a priority for the red meat supply chain to obtain the earliest possible indication of how the UK would replace the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) and of the support which would be provided to Scottish farming.
“Any reduction in supply levels, due to policy or producer confusion, over the duration of the Brexit transition, or the lack of a sound domestic and export strategy for post-EU Britain would signal the end of the Scottish red meat industry in its present form.” he said.
“As such, there must be no confusion, lack of direction or the creation of production disincentives during the transition period, or beyond.”
Jess said his organisation had urged the cabinet secretary to ensure that producers were given the confidence and reassurance to continue supplying Scotland’s abattoirs.
The SAMW president also told the cabinet secretary that “business as usual” was not an option.
Jess said that for years the Scottish red meat industry had been saddled with a one-size-fits-all regulatory straight jacket – and Brexit provided the means to break free from this and embrace opportunities to grow in a different direction.
“That will require new thinking by government with a willingness to start with a clean sheet in drawing up the sort of incentives which will make Scotland the food and drink success story of Europe,” he said
“This is not the time to be cautious or to wait and see how things work out. The red meat industry in Scotland is too delicately balanced for any indecision on government’s part, even short-term indecision. We cannot afford to pause as an industry while the UK sorts itself out.”