Scotland business

Horsemeat scandal: Scottish meat sales rise, says minister Lochhead

Scottish meat sales have increased since the start of the horsemeat scandal because of its reputation for quality, Scots ministers have said.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said sales at some butchers were up by more than a fifth, while processing firms had reported increased orders.

Mr Lochhead also told the Holyrood parliament there was no evidence the scandal was an issue in Scotland.

He said work was under way to keep horsemeat out of the food chain.

Opposition parties raised concern over a drop in inspection officers.

The scandal emerged in mid-January, when Irish food inspectors announced they had found traces of horsemeat in some frozen beefburgers stocked by UK supermarkets, including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.

The latest development has seen Nestle, the world's biggest food company, remove beef pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain after tests revealed traces of horse DNA.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Lochhead said: "There's clear evidence that people are looking for providence in the Scotch brand, which is associated with traceability and quality.

"Some butchers are reporting sales up by more than a fifth since this crisis started and meat processing companies in Scotland are also reporting increased orders for Scotch beef."

Mr Lochhead said Scotland's world-renowned Scotch beef brand must be promoted and protected, and he also urged retailers to source meat "closer to home".

He told MSPs: "Fortunately, we do not have the complex, sometimes murky web of supply chains stretching across Europe.

"We have farmers with traceability systems for their meat through the Scotch label, and that's why many customers are realising they can trust the Scotch label when buying meat."

Mr Lochhead said the Food Standards Agency in Scotland was working with the Scottish government to prevent horsemeat entering the food chain.

He said: "In Scotland, there is no slaughtering of horses for human consumption and no food manufacturing firm has been implicated in the horsemeat scandal and the illegal substitution of meat.

'Loss of trust'

"Indeed, all the evidence points to the affected meat originating outwith Scotland.

"It's also important to note that to date, this is an issue of food fraud, with no evidence of any implications for human health."

The minister added: "We have also taken steps to check no horsemeat is present in the food provided to our schools, hospitals and prisons.

"Assurances have been sought across all those who supply food to the public sector in Scotland."

Mr Lochhead said: "The horsemeat scandal has undermined consumer trust in some parts of the food industry.

"But it may be a watershed moment in how people think about food, and that could end up being a good thing."

Labour's Claire Baker said the Scottish government's reaction to the scandal had been "slow".

Image caption The Scottish government said people recognised the quality of Scotch beef

She went on: "Given what we now know about the regulatory regime in Scotland - a third fewer food safety inspections since 2008, a fall of 50% in the number of meat inspectors as well as a drop in local authority health environment officers and specialist food safety officers - we have to ask whether the cabinet secretary believes that the regulatory system is robust enough?"

Tory MSP Alex Fergusson, added: "While the considerable reduction in testing, environmental health officers and food safety is a major cause of concern that has to be addressed, the real issue here is the loss of trust, which the cabinet secretary mentioned the consumer now has in what was supposed to be a robust food chain."

Jim Hume, of the Liberal Democrats, said he was disappointed that the UK government had declined to "fully devolve consumer protection powers to Scotland".

The Scottish government said it was continuing to advance plans for a stand-alone, Scottish food standards body.

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