NATIONAL Farmer Union Scotland president Nigel Miller has used his presidential address at the union’s centenary Annual General Meeting to call for retailers and food manufacturers to put the provenance and integrity of their products before profit.
It the wake of the growing scandal around mis-labelled processed beef products found to contain horsemeat, the union has reassured all parts of the food chain that Scottish farmers and the Scotch Beef brand can deliver the high levels of traceability and quality that consumers expect and deserve.
The union accepts that tightening up of the audit trail in Scotland may be appropriate but wholesale changes to the flawed audit process for imported
processed products are urgently required.
Speaking in St Andrews, Mr Miller said: “The clear message for retailers and food manufacturers out of this whole debacle is that food production must not be focussed purely on profit - people clearly care about the provenance of their food. This damaging scandal has exposed the lengthy supply chains which are now involved in producing manufactured meat products.
“These now stretch from a Scottish supermarket freezer cabinet to processing sites in Ireland or France all the way to abattoirs in Eastern Europe.
“The longer the chain, the more difficult the challenge in auditing that process.
“However, it is a process where more robust checks and balances must be rapidly introduced if we are to avoid having our Scottish industry undermined in this manner in the future.
“For retailers and manufacturers, there is a clear opportunity for them to shorten those chains and give Scottish producers the chance to meet all their requirements. Scotch beef’s reputation is founded on quality and our brand is synonymous with roasts and steaks.
“However, we need to sell the whole of a beef carcase and there is ample scope for minced Scotch beef to fill the manufacturing requirement for burgers and sausages. Restaurant giant McDonald’s, who have a platform here at our AGM, are proud to fulfil all the burger requirement for their Scottish stores with Scottish beefburgers and that is a clear message to others in the retail and catering sectors on what can be achieved.
“FSA Scotland and Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead will meet with Scottish stakeholders this week to discuss this debacle and what the implications are for the Scotch Beef brand of catastrophic failings that have occurred well away from the Scottish industry.
“We understand from FSA Scotland that the necessary checks on the Scottish sector are well underway and those checks are the first steps towards independent scrutiny of our beef chain.
“Such an audit trail for Scotch Beef is a vital part of future consumer choice. It is fundamental to every part of the chain and delivers genuine integrity that consumers can put their trust in.”
South of the border NFU president Peter Kendall said: “Our members are rightly angry and concerned with the recent developments relating to contaminated processed meat products. The contamination took place post farm gate which farmers have no control over. This has never been a farming issue but it is certainly an issue that farmers will be taking extremely seriously.
“The NFU is working with the industry to uphold the reputation of British farmers who are committed to producing world class raw ingredients in to the supply chain.
“We are concerned about the ramifications for the industry as a whole which is why we are meeting with retailers, food service companies, processors, as well as the FSA and Defra, to establish the facts and seek reassurance that the integrity of British food is maintained.
“This whole system of quality is being completely undermined by failures within the supply chain and reinforces our call for clearer labelling and a commitment from retailers to British produce.
“In the meantime, shoppers should look for the Red Tractor logo on their fresh meat which shows the products they buy have been produced to world-class standards, which are independently inspected.”