BREXIT could spell disaster for famous Scottish products such as Arbroath smokies and Stornoway black pudding, according to former cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment Richard Lochhead.
Speaking for the first time since stepping down in May, Mr Lochhead said the UK government should work to ensure Scotland is not excluded from the EU’s protected food name schemes in the wake of Brexit.
Without this protection - he said - “cheap imitations” would be able to undermine the country’s “reputation as a producer of world-class food and drink.”
The EU’s protected food name scheme awards “protected geographical indicator” (PGI) status to products - meaning they can only be made in the area indicated on the label, by set methods.
The scheme was established to prevent consumers being scammed or misled, and to control the quality of certain culturally significant products.
Mr Lochhead said: “By volume and value, Scotland has some of the largest protected food names in the EU, with high-value products such as Scotch Beef PGI and Scottish Farmed Salmon PGI, accounting for around £700m in sales.
“Now we have a UK government that seems determined to go down the hard Brexit route, effectively throwing up in the air this vital protection for our food and drink names.
“If it continues to follow this route and exits the single market, Europe could easily dump Scottish products from its PGI scheme, along with English and Welsh.
“After all, what is to stop them dropping our access across Europe when they only have access to 65m British consumers in return?
“This could be a huge setback for such iconic brands as Arbroath Smokies and Stornoway black pudding and, the most recent to gain PGI status, Traditional Ayrshire Dunlop cheese, and for those who have applications in the pipeline, such as Dundee cake, Forfar bridies, Ayrshire early potatoes, Orkney beremeal, Cambus O’May cheese, as well as those considering applying, such as Scottish cider brandy.”
Mr Lochhead - who held the cabinet secretary position for nine year, and continues to act as MSP for Moray - went on: “It would undo all the hard work we have done to gain protected status, which is there to stop cheap imitations undermining our brands and Scotland’s reputation as a producer of world class food and drink.
“Given the importance of Europe as an export market for our food and drink sector we need to know exactly the UK government’s position in safeguarding PGI as soon as possible.”
Fourteen Scottish products currently hold PGI status - with several currently undergoing the application process and at least four in pre-consultation.
Gaining PGI status usually takes four years - although it can sometimes take longer.
Applications must first be sent to the Scottish government - who review it prior to passing it on to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in London.
It is then sent to Brussels, where the final decision is made.
Gaining PGI status has been shown to increase demand for products.
Ann Dorward - a cheesemaker who gained PGI status for her Traditional Ayrshire Dunlop cheese last year - said: “The wait was certainly worth it.
“Gaining PGI has been a fantastic thing, not just for my Traditional Ayrshire Dunlop cheese, but for all my products because it has raised the public awareness of their provenance, how they are made and the stories behind them.
“It has increased food tourism to the area and made people realise there is a long history of cheesemaking here.
“People increasingly want to know where their food comes from and the EU protected food names scheme has really helped fly the flag for my part of Ayrshire.
“My cheese has been around for a very long time but nobody really knew about it until it got PGI status, then suddenly everyone woke up to its existence.
“It has increased demand, which in turn has helped secure demand in the area.
“It is good for me to know that the way my cheese is made will live on after me and won’t be forgotten about.
“France and other countries have protected foods. It would be wrong if the UK just let this go. They need to act now to safeguard the system for Scottish foods. Otherwise all the hard work will have just been a waste of time.”
A Defra spokesman said: “We are still a member of the EU and continue to engage with EU business as normal, which means the protected food names scheme remains in place.
“These products are extremely important to our reputation as a great food nation and we will work to ensure they continue to benefit from protection in the future.”