A food fraud inquiry is under way into alleged illegal practices in meat plants which could be duping shoppers who pay a premium for Scottish beef.
Investigators at Food Standards Scotland’s (FSS) new food crime unit say they have information that inferior beef from Eastern Europe, Ireland and England is being imported and repackaged with a premium Scottish label.
FSS intelligence manager Duncan Smith said the probe extended beyond one Scottish meat plant.
“It’s coming from all over Europe, England and Ireland, but the problem is it’s getting processed as Scottish beef and it’s not that.
“It’s not farm assured beef. Foreign meat is coming into the country, getting processed then getting put out to customers as premium Scottish beef.
“Unfortunately what the public is getting sold is inferior quality beef and hasn’t come from farm assured farms and isn’t the same quality as they expect to get for the price.”
Mr Smith said it was being processed by unscrupulous cutting plants or meat processors.
“On the face of it they’re bona fide plants but clearly if they’re willing to take in inferior meat and then put it out as something else there’s clearly concerns over the integrity of that plant.
“We’re aware of several places in Scotland where it’s happening.”
However Mr Smith made it clear that the safety of the meat was not an issue.
“No one’s saying there’s a risk to the consumer but they’re getting duped as to what they’re buying.
“Chances are they’re paying more money for what they believe to be premium Scottish beef and it’s an inferior product.”
A spokesman for Scotland’s meat wholesalers association (SAMW) said there had been no request from FSS to respond to the probe.
The association’s executive manager Ian Anderson said: “Unfortunately the meat industry can be subject to unfounded allegations which are based not on fact or evidence but on an anti-meat agenda.”
Scotland’s meat promotion body, Quality Meat Scotland said it would work closely with FSS to ensure investigations into any potential wrong-doing were robust and effective.
QMS chairman Jim McLaren said: “It is vital the quality reputation of our beef is not undermined in any way and that any isolated cases of poor practice are quickly identified and firmly dealt with.
“To this end, the work undertaken by Food Standard Scotland’s crime unit is welcomed by our industry and adds to the range of measures in place which underpin the integrity of beef from Scotland.”
Farmers’ union president Allan Bowie also warned that mislabelling could rapidly undermine the integrity of Scottish beef.
“We consider Scottish beef to be the best in the world. It earns a strong premium and it comes at a price.
“If it’s being undermined by being mixed with another product then we lose a huge amount. That needs to be stopped. We need consumers to know they’re getting the Real McCoy.”
Scottish Beef Association director George McFadzean, said he wasn’t surprised “in the slightest” that beef from outwith Scotland was being substituted for the genuine article.
“Once the jacket is off the beast and the ear tag is gone it’s easy to put the carcass through as anything,” he said.
“Once it is in the cutting plant they can’t tell and I’m sure some unscrupulous plant owners are more than capable of substitution.”