Nigel Miller: Farmers have full faith in Scottish beef, but retailers must help keep public confidence

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In SOME ways, our confidence has been shattered over the past few days as a result of the horsemeat scandal.

We as farmers in Scotland feel a bit betrayed, because there are such rigorous standards over traceability for Scottish beef.

The problems we have seen appear to have crept in once meat gets into manufacturing and secondary processing. If retailers are to win back the public’s confidence in Scottish beef, they would be looking for auditing of any product going into secondary processing, which would probably need to be done independently. We also think there should be some kind of routine for products to be screened.

If products are processed to meet budgets, that puts the pressure on and leaves these long supply chains vulnerable to fraud, which is what seems to have happened here.

We would like to see retailers move away from these long supply chains so they can be sure of the quality of their products.

Some retailers have already done it, such as the Morrisons supermarket chain. It controls the product from abbatoir to shop shelf.

Marks & Spencers has done it too, and obviously local butchers, so it is possible.

We don’t expect all retailers to have their own producers or farms, but I think it is quite possible to ensure that all meat products can be traced back to the initial site where the animal has been slaughtered.

That has obviously not been happening.

In terms of the tests being carried out at the moment, we would like that process completed as quickly as possible and for the government to act on any problems found.

The government also has a role to play in ensuring that ongoing auditing and sampling takes place for any meat products which come from a risky area.

Labelling is another issue. I think retailers have probably sheltered behind inaccurate or incomplete labelling. We need to ensure that labelling integrity is 100 per cent and the origins of meat products are well labelled.

We would like to see a labelling system which is independent or producer-controlled to ensure that retailers are not in a position to manipulate how products are presented.

We would like a transparent action plan following our meeting with rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead and the Food Standards Agency in Scotland to ensure that from now on, consumers can be confident that all meat products are 100 per cent as labelled.

We have full faith in Scottish beef and we are pleased that the government has now put out a clear message that Scottish beef is something that we can all trust.

• Nigel Miller is president of the National Farmers Union Scotland.