SCOTLAND’S hard-pressed sheep farmers were given a boost yesterday with the promise of government support for a £250,000 campaign to promote the sale of lamb as part of a bigger £1 million support package for the red meat industry.
But in another move which might have a much more significant long-term impact on the Scottish livestock industry, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead announced that he had commissioned an independent audit into the workings of the meat sector in this country.
Speaking at NFU Scotland’s annual meeting at St Andrews, Lochhead admitted that the sheep sector was going through tough times and he shared the disappointment of lamb producers who have seen prices fall.
He said he wanted to see the promotional cash used to develop new markets and to exploit the current availability of prime lamb from this country. The cash for both the cattle and sheep sectors was to help further maximise the Scotch brand.
Newly re-elected union president Nigel Miller welcomed the additional cash, which will be channelled through red meat promotional body, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
QMS chairman Jim McLaren said the funding would allow the organisation to build on existing work behind the brands, including ensuring consumers fully understood traceability and quality assurance.
“Our work on behalf of the industry to encourage consumers to look behind the label has resulted in strong awareness and confidence in Scotch Beef, with recent independent research indicating that 87 per cent of Scots trust the brand,” he said.
But the minister reported that no progress had been made in getting levy money back from English and Welsh abattoirs on Scottish livestock, a sum he estimated was worth about £1.4m annually.
Describing it as a “scandalous situation”, he said he was now demanding a solution to the problem, especially since the closure of the Vion plant in Broxburn has further reduced levies paid to QMS.
In another move, Lochhead announced that he had commissioned Scotland Food and Drink to carry out an audit of the meat sector in order to get a better understanding of the market place.
“We need to know what is on sale, where it comes from and how it is labelled. Crucially we also need to know which retailers are the best supporters of our producers,” he said.
“We need the retailers to do more to get behind the Scotland brand, paying a fair price for good produce.”
The moves come as consumers are increasingly looking at the sourcing and provenance of meat in the wake of the horsemeat scare.