A leading figure in the Scottish beef industry has accused the president of farming union NFU Scotland (NFUS) of “opening his arms” to imports of beef from across the Irish Sea.
Jim Walker – a former NFU Scotland president who co-chaired the Scottish Government’s suckler beef climate group – has also accused red meat levy body Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) of not doing enough to ensure Scotch-assured beef producers receive a premium for their produce.
He made the comments in response to an article in The Scottish Farmer about Asda sourcing Irish beef due to rising British beef prices.
In the article, current NFUS president Martin Kennedy expresses disappointment that Asda is buying Irish beef, but said if foreign beef was needed to make up supplies it was better for it to come from Ireland rather than elsewhere.
He is quoted saying: “The whole of the UK is shy of 360,000 tonnes of beef, so if we are going to have to import it, then it needs to be brought in from Ireland rather than other parts of the world.
“At least we know our closest neighbours are comparable to standards here.”
Mr Walker described Mr Kennedy’s words as “shameful” and said the president was “effectively opening his arms and welcoming products with little provenance from or travelling through Ireland”.
“Even in the madness of the world we currently live in I never thought I would live to see this day where one of our own has got it so wrong,” said Mr Walker.
“This is shameful and appalling.”
He also attacked QMS and said: “The much-lauded Scotch premium has gone as QMS sit idly by and do absolutely nothing.”
Responding to Mr Walker’s criticism, NFUS president Martin Kennedy said the union had publicly called Asda and Tesco to account over their “disappointing and declining support for Scottish red meat”.
He said: “I am already on record criticising the Asda decision to step away from its 100% commitment to British beef and we have been in further dialogue with Asda today.
“With escalating costs and falling prices, I am also on record stating that retailers have a clear responsibility in ensuring that profitability is delivered to all parts of the chain.”
He said the UK does not produce enough beef to meet demand and added: “At the moment, the gap is being filled by the Irish.
“However, the reality is that the damaging UK trade deals with Australia and New Zealand have left Scottish farmers and crofters increasingly exposed and that threats to home production are no longer exclusively across the Irish Sea. No organisation has been more critical of these ill-considered trade deals than NFU Scotland.”
Meanwhile, QMS director of economics services Stuart Ashworth said it was not unusual for the benchmark R4L deadweight beef price premium between Scotland and England to narrow, or even reverse, at this time of year.
However, he said this had occurred earlier than expected and it was very unusual for the Scotch premium to dissipate completely.
Mr Ashworth added: “QMS will continue to work to drive demand for Scotch red meat and differentiate it in the marketplace.
“In response to this seasonal narrowing of Scottish price premium and a number of other consumer drivers QMS has developed a year round programme of promotional activities for our brands which will start with TV and other media presence through January and in particular targeted social media activity aimed at the key 18-39 year old consumer group.”