Give us our money – Sheep farmers tell Michael Moore

0
457

  By a Newsnet Reporter
 
In the shadows of the horse-meat crisis, another meat scandal is currently emerging.
 
The Scottish Government, working with official meat industry body Quality Meat Scotland and farmers and butchers throughout Scotland have worked to counter the horse-meat scares by increasing their efforts to promote the traceability of quality assured Scotch meat.

This promotional work requires funding and it has recently emerged that monies due to Quality Meat Scotland are in fact being held south of the border.

The disputed monies are raised in the form of levies charged to farmers when they have an animal slaughtered. The intention of such levies is that they should be used to fund the necessary promotional and advertising work to ensure that consumers chose quality assured Scotch meat.

The problem has arisen due to the lack of abattoir facilities in Scotland leading to sheep and pigs having to be transported to England and Wales for slaughter.  When slaughtered south of the border, the levy charged to farmers for each animal killed remains outwith Scotland.  It is this levy, amounting to £1M per annum for sheep alone, that farmers are now demanding be “repatriated” to Scotland.
 
Representatives of the Scottish farming industry met this week with Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore MP, to highlight the lack of progress to date on their demands for the return of levy monies to Scotland.

During the discussions, Quality Meat Scotland Chief Executive ’Uel Morton, told Mr Moore that the Westminster Government must act now on the issue of recovering Scotland’s lost levy.

“The fact is the Scottish industry continues to miss out on around £1.5 million of pig and sheepmeat levy per year from animals born and reared in Scotland but slaughtered south of the border,” said Mr Morton.

“Rebalancing this inequity requires agreement between ministers in Westminster and the devolved governments and (that) they have a clear understanding of the impact on our industry of this continued inequitable distribution of levy funds.”

“The figures speak for themselves. Scotland is home to 22% of the total GB sheep population but has only an 11% share of sheep levy income,” stated Mr Morton.

“Until recently the cattle and pig population and levy income figures have been fairly well in balance. However, the impact of the Vion pig business restructure has had a major impact on levy income in Scotland.”

“The effect of rebalancing the present levy funding inequity would result in QMS receiving £1.5 million of funding which is not currently coming back from south of the border.”

Mr Morton and Jim McLaren, QMS Chairman were joined by NFU Scotland Vice President Allan Bowie and National Sheep Association Development Officer, George Milne, for the meeting with Secretary of State.

George Milne, National Sheep Association Development Officer backed the message from QMS on levy:

“The Scottish sheep industry is enduring a tough time as a result of a combination of factors – from currency exchange rates to the impact of extreme weather conditions – which are outwith producers’ control.

“It is imperative that progress is made on this inequity to allow the industry to benefit from this levy which could make a substantial difference to the activity QMS undertakes to improve the efficiency of Scottish sheep farmers and promote the Scotch Lamb brand.”

NFU Scotland Vice President Allan Bowie said: “The whole meat industry is under unparalleled scrutiny but Scotland’s livestock sector is in great shape to deliver what consumers want.

“Backed by well-funded marketing of the beef, lamb and pork brands, Scottish farmers can show customers both at home and overseas the quality of product they have to offer, the care they take of their stock, and the short chains available to put that produce on their plate.  There is an opportunity to build our marketing effort but without a reasonable deal on levy repatriation, our scope to drive our red meat sector forward will be limited.”

The industry meeting took place at Lurgan Farm near Aberfeldy, run by Martin and Jane Kennedy.

The Kennedys farm the 1700 acre Lurgan farm as tenants of Edradynate Estate. The farm, which extends to 2500 feet above sea level, runs 600 ewes and 35 suckler cows. The ewes are a mixture of Beltex cross Bleu de Maine and pure Blackface and Cheviots.

During a tour of the farm, Mr Kennedy highlighted to the Secretary of State the impact of the exceptionally wet weather conditions which have slowed lamb growth, restricted grazing availability and resulted in poor quality winter forage.

The Kennedy’s lambs have been going off the farm a month later than usual, as a result, and their lamb cheques have been £20/head back on last year.

Michael Moore MP has issued no official statement in response to the Scottish meat industries concerns.