Comment: Quality key to avoiding mislabelling

The horsemeat scandal has highlighted that Scotland’s food industry is right to concentrate on the provenance of the product and integrity of its supply chains.

Scotland is also well positioned to come through the meat industry mislabelling affair in better shape than most nations.

As a nation, we produce less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s food and, with costs far higher than most due to climate and topography, Scotland was never going to lead in the international commodity market.

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We do, however, have some great tasting high quality produce. Much of these foods have strong brand identities underpinned by vigorously audited, whole chain quality assurance (QA) schemes.

Take our red meat industry. Mey Selections Beef and Lamb sells as North Highland in Sainsbury supermarkets and utilises the Quality Meat Scotland Scotch Beef and Lamb assurance scheme that requires all livestock to be audited to rigorous standards from birth to slaughter. Livestock hauliers, abattoirs, cutting and packing plants are also included in this. In addition, the system is audited and endorsed by the Scottish SPCA for demonstrating best practice in animal welfare.

While Mey Selections has a great name for producing great tasting steaks and roasts, it is little known that Sainsbury utilises much of the remainder of the animal carcass to produce a ready-meal range with the same provenance and quality approach as the prime cuts.

Others in the industry can learn from this.

Most of the rest of Scottish produce is underpinned by a similar quality systems approach across milk, soft fruit and cereal. In total some 17,000 farms in Scotland are involved in QA schemes providing the source material to produce our craft products such as shortbread, oatcakes, smoked salmon and cheeses.

Scotland can learn from the horsemeat scandal by redoubling its efforts to make sure that its traceability systems are as robust as possible, challenging those who seek to undermine its brands and by working to convince consumers to shop for quality as well as price.

l David Whiteford is chairman of the North Highland Initiative and a farmer in Easter Ross.