THE unique “Scotch Beef” brand is at risk, Ian Watson, chairman of Scotland’s biggest livestock marketing co-operative, has warned.
He told Kelso agricultural discussion society that was because: “Too many store cattle from Scotland are going south for finishing, live prime cattle are being brought in from Ireland for slaughter, and there are fewer and fewer abattoir operators. There is a danger for the provenance of the Scotch beef brand.”
The significance of those concerns for Watson, chairman of Borders-based Farm Stock (Scotland) which has about 1,100 farmer members, is that the brand Scotch Beef, as well as being anecdotal shorthand for quality, was recognised as a Product of Geographical Indication (PGI) in 1994 under European Union regulations.
As with Parma ham, Roquefort cheese and Champagne, PGI status is a unique selling point for a product. But to qualify for the Scotch Beef brand, cattle must be born, reared, finished and slaughtered in Scotland with most stages covered by assurance schemes run by Quality Meat Scotland.
No other type of beef – imported or sold to English finishers then brought back for slaughter – can qualify.
But Watson warned that the supply of qualifying cattle was at risk because of “a leakage of store cattle to England where finishers have access to more cheap arable by-products for feeding, and Irish prime cattle coming to Scotland for slaughter via Larne”.
Add to that, he suggested, high feed prices because of the appalling 2012 harvest, lack of forage, and turmoil about the future of Scottish abattoirs – only partly worsened by the recent Vion closure and sale – and prospects for beef finishers are scary.