SAMW counter TV programme’s ‘erroneous’ statements
Following the recent airing of a BBC Scotland on red meat processing, SAMW has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, to ‘put the record straight’. The full text of the letter follows:
SAMW is concerned that the wrong impression of the Scottish red meat processing sector was conveyed by the ‘Scotland 2014’ programme, which was broadcast by BBC Scotland on 2 July. We could catalogue a long list of erroneous or misleading statements and assertions made during the programme but we shall limit our comments to the main points.
The film of abattoir abuse was several years old and did NOT take place in a Scottish abattoir. The ex-slaughterhouse employee, who commented on the basis of his experience at a small Scottish abattoir which closed some years ago, displayed ignorance of the industry by referring to welfare issues at the de-hairing stage when the pig is already DEAD. The programme lacked credibility and was demonstrably partial in its approach to the Scottish abattoir sector. Thankfully, the efforts of SAMW and QMS to present the sector in a proper light paid off through the briefing of Johnny Mackey, who restored balance and fact to the programme.
Programmes such as Scotland 2014, however poor and inaccurate they may be, are seldom without consequences. Clearly, with an industry we are justly proud of, we are anxious to minimize these. There must be no knee-jerk reaction by government to address a problem which arguably doesn’t exist and care needs to be taken to avoid unnecessary measures so that authority can be “seen to have taken action.”
The red meat processing sector has a good record on animal welfare and this should not be overlooked. Of course, welfare incidents can arise but these usually result from unavoidable or unforeseen events and are addressed immediately. As Johnny Mackey said in his interview, it is not in the interests of the Scottish industry to have poor welfare because of the impact it would have on meat quality and the good reputation and image of ‘Scotch’ in the market place. This association therefore supports high standards of animal welfare and the taking of strong action if any wilful, unacceptable practice should occur. In our experience, the Food Standards Agency in Scotland enforces the welfare legislation robustly and we have no doubt that the industry will address very seriously any issues which might arise in the future. In view of this, we are concerned that there should be no reflex draconian action as a consequence of the BBC programme.
Another issue which was poorly portrayed in the programme was the use of CCTV in abattoirs. As Johnny Mackey said, 95% of all red meat animals slaughtered in Scotland are in plants which already have CCTV. Furthermore, we understand that the abattoirs accounting for the remaining 5% were not responsible for any recent breaches of welfare. Thus, there is no case for compulsory CCTV, a view reached a few months ago by the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Animal Welfare, chaired by your colleague Christine Graham MSP. That group favours guidance and best practice rather than legislation and this seems a wiser course as the use of CCTV raises a multitude of difficult practical and legal issues. A potential major concern is the additional costs which could fall on abattoirs at a time when the red meat industry is under severe financial pressure.
Finally, the BBC programme highlighted our long standing concern over the movement of animals back from abattoirs to the consignor. You kindly met a delegation from SAMW to discuss this last September. The programme repeatedly referred to heavily pregnant animals and animals which had recently given birth being slaughtered. If the farmers send them to the abattoir in these circumstances, what else can the abattoir do if the Scottish Government will not allow them to be sent home? Of course, the abattoir can apply for a specific movement licence but the delay in obtaining this will most likely exacerbate the problem. In these circumstances, a general licence would seem more appropriate.
We would welcome your comments on these points and would be pleased if you would agree to discuss them with the association.