Livestock numbers warning

SCOTLAND'S international reputation as a source of quality meat will be seriously diminished unless the downward trend in cattle and sheep numbers is reversed in 2010.

That is the stark warning from Alan Craig, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, in a New Year message to the industry.

"I believe we've now reached a critical stage in the production cycle and unless 2010 delivers a genuine turning point, our whole farm-to-plate industry will suffer severe and lasting damage," said Craig.

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"The quality of the Scottish product remains extremely high but the steady decline in livestock numbers in recent years is eating away at the very fabric of our industry. We must halt the decline and begin to rebuild production."

The Scottish Government's Pack Inquiry into future agricultural policy, he added, had to be given all-industry attention at the highest level.

"If ever there was a government-backed report which must not be allowed to gather dust, this is it," he said.

Craig, chief executive of the Aberdeenshire-based ANM Group Ltd, is also calling for a "fair deal" on meat inspection charges and government action to remove abattoir controls which, he claims, are unnecessary.

But he says the industry is entering a year of "real opportunity" with increased public interest in the future of Scotland's rural economy providing a platform for the industry to communicate what food and farming really means to the Scottish nation.