T. 07768 654955 E. scott.walker@scconsultancy.uk

Update on the FSS Meat Industry Charge Rates for 2024/25

We find ourselves at a pivotal moment regarding the impending increase in FSS meat industry charge rates for the fiscal year 2024/25.  The 20% surge in the Official Veterinarian (OV) rate and the 17% hike in the Meat Hygiene Inspector (MHI) rate pose significant challenges to our industry given the current economic climate within which it is operating.

In our recent dialogue with Jenni Minto, Minister for Public Health, we outlined three primary requests:

 

  1. Comprehensive transparency regarding the costs associated with the charge rates for 2024/25.
  2. Consideration for augmenting the Ministerial discount for 2024/25 to counteract FSS cost escalations.
  3. Postponement of the implementation of the new charge rates until resolutions are reached on points 1 and 2.

While FSS has furnished us with a more detailed breakdown of the costs comprising the 2024/25 charge rates, the unresolved issue of the Ministerial discount persists.  As the first invoices will soon be issued, we have once again reached out to the Minister, urgently urging a delay in the implementation of these new charge rates.

Considering that a significant portion of the rise in this year’s charge rates can be attributed to Scottish Government policies, including the forthcoming implementation of the 35-hour workweek from October 1st, 2024, and the pay award increases spanning from 2023 to 2025, it’s important to recognise that these factors are beyond the control of our industry. As they do not mirror the commercial realities within meat plants, it becomes imperative to seek additional support through this year’s Ministerial discount funding.

In the face of escalating costs, our customers rightfully expect us to explore every avenue to mitigate these increases through cost-saving measures.  We maintain steadfastly that any cost escalations in FSS charge rates should be met with corresponding efforts to offset them.  It is our firm conviction that the burden of increased costs for official controls should not unilaterally fall upon the industry without exhaustive exploration of all operational adjustments to mitigate these escalations.  As it stands many plants may simply not pay the increase when faced with the invoices calculated at the new charge rates.

SAMW continue to collaborate with FSS, offering insights and potential strategies that could alleviate the industry’s burden.  As we navigate this challenge, we remain committed to advocating for a sustainable future for our sector.

 

 

Excessive cost rise impacts Scottish meat chain

Scotland’s meat industry is at risk of being rendered ‘uncompetitive’ in comparison to the rest of the UK by the imposition of huge cost increases by Food Standards Scotland (FSS).

An April 1st price hike by FSS of 20% for the provision of Official Veterinarians (OVs) and a 17% rise in the cost of Meat Hygiene Inspectors (MHIs) has been described as excessive and unacceptable by the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).

“The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in England and Wales is, in contrast, raising its OV rate by 4% and MHI rate by 10%, leaving both charges well below the levels our members are being required to pay,” said SAMW President, Ian Bentley. “If the FSS increases are allowed to stand without any abatement, they will impact our businesses, the staff our members employ and the wider farm-based rural economy from which we draw our raw materials.”

SAMW has discussed the issue with senior staff at FSS and written to the Scottish Government Minister for Public Health, Jenni Minto, warning that the planned 20% and 17% cost increases ‘will have a detrimental effect on the industry’ to the extent of ‘jeopardising’ member businesses ‘competitiveness and sustainability’.

Ian Bentley

 

“Individual members are shocked at the level of OV and MHI increases they are now facing, especially when compared to their own efforts to keep processing plant cost rises closer to the 4% level which FSA is achieving,” said Mr Bentley.

One business owner said he would never be able to negotiate a 20% rise with his own customers and would never accept such an approach from a commercial supplier.  Another business executive commented that if FSS was his supplier in the commercial world then it wouldn’t be his supplier anymore.

“We understand the pressures under which FSS has been operating, with its need to absorb the Scottish Government’s civil service wage rise of 7% for 2023/24 and the introduction of a 35-hour-week from October this year,” said Mr Bentley. “According to FSS, this equates to a cost recovery requirement of £424,000.

“Our members are perfectly happy for the Scottish Government to takes such steps, of course, especially if they can fund the increased costs.  We just don’t see why we should pay for them.

“The other major cost increase, as identified by FSS, relates to difficulties it has experienced in recruiting sufficient OVs and MHIs to operate the statutory controls in Scottish red meat plants. While, ideally, these posts should be filled by employed staff, FSS has relied ‘as a temporary measure’ on agency and locum staff at an additional cost to their budget of £407,000.

“Here again, member companies do not see why they should be required to pay for this ‘temporary’ cost, caused by the described recruitment ‘difficulties’.”

Scotland’s red meat sector benefits from an annual discount of statutory charges, worth £1.07 million, a measure which acknowledges the industry’s contribution of £1 billion a year to the Scottish economy and a direct employment base of over 3000 people.

“We firmly believe therefore that a strong rationale exists for the industry discount to be temporarily increased to offset the £831,000 added burden we are currently facing, a request we have already made to the Scottish Government,” said Mr Bentley.

“We are also seeking, even at this 11th hour, a postponement of the April 1st increases to allow the matter to be examined and discussed in greater detail than has been possible since the 20% and 17% figures were presented to us on March 7.”

Red Meat, Health, and Climate Change in Scotland

By Scott Walker

At the request of the Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland (FSS), in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, modelled the impact of decreasing meat and dairy consumption on the nation’s intake of essential nutrients.  This study was prompted by the Climate Change Committee’s suggestion for the Scottish Government to promote a 20% reduction in meat consumption by 2030, increasing to 35% by 2050.

Yet, amidst calls for reduced meat consumption to mitigate climate change, FSS issues a cautionary note.  They emphasise that a blanket reduction in meat and dairy consumption could exacerbate existing micronutrient deficiencies, particularly among those already with low intakes.  Therefore, their advice regarding the consumption of red and processed meats remains unchanged.

The findings of the research underline the importance of a well-rounded diet that includes Scottish red meat.  The research conducted by Food Standards Scotland and the University of Edinburgh indicates the necessity of finding a balance between climate objectives and maintaining people’s health and nutrition.  Red meat serves as a significant source of vital nutrients crucial for overall health, including iron and selenium for immune function, B vitamins for energy, zinc for children’s growth, and vitamin D for bone density.

Issuing a blanket public health recommendation to decrease meat consumption could disproportionately affect the nutrient intake of women and girls, many of whom already struggle to meet dietary recommendations.  In Scotland, average consumption of red meat now falls below the recommended daily limit of 70g set by government experts, with women showing lower consumption than men.  This suggests that most individuals are already consuming an appropriate amount of red meat for their health and well-being.

So, what’s the takeaway from this debate?  Moderation is key.  Incorporating Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb, and Specially Selected Pork into a diet alongside other nutritious options, red meat remains an integral part of a healthy eating plan.

Scotland is renowned as one of the most sustainable regions for producing high-quality, nutritious red meat.  Farmers consistently operate in harmony with the environment, particularly within the beef supply chain, actively working to reduce emissions in accordance with government policies.  Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) supports Food Standards Scotland’s aim of encouraging adherence to the official Scottish Dietary Goals.  Red meat can be a component of a healthy, balanced diet, especially when consumers opt for brands such as Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb, and Specially Selected Pork, which adhere to evidence-based welfare and environmental standards.

Rather than setting targets for reduced meat consumption solely to address climate change, there should be a concerted effort to achieve all of the Scottish Dietary Goals and support a greater number of people in adopting the Eatwell Guide dietary recommendations.

 

Navigating Meat Industry Challenges at SAMW New Year Lunch 2024

Lively Discussion on Recruitment, Perception, and Future Hopes

Kicking off the New Year, industry leaders gathered for a thought-provoking panel discussion at SAMW’s New Year Lunch 2024.  The conversation delved into pressing issues facing the meat industry, from recruitment challenges to changing perceptions and hopes for the future.  The lively discussion saw Marion MacCormick, Scotland Food & Drink Board Member; Jack Brown, Kepak management trainee; Scott Walker, SAMW Executive Manager; Emma Hodge, AgriScot beef farm of the year 2023; and Andrew Duff, MacDuff 1890, sharing their insights and experiences.

NYL Panel (Left to right): Marion MacCormick, Scotland Food & Drink Board Member; Jack Brown, Kepak management trainee; Scott Walker, SAMW Executive Manager; Emma Hodge, AgriScot beef farm of the year 2023; and Andrew Duff, MacDuff 1890.

 

Question One: Embracing What We Love and Driving Change

The discussion began with a reflection on the industry’s positive aspects and desired changes.  Participants unanimously expressed their love for the Scottish meat industry while highlighting the need to cut red tape that has increasingly burdened farmers.  Addressing misconceptions surrounding the industry and promoting a proper appreciation for the rich offerings in our larder were key goals.  The call for change echoed in the desire to dispel inaccurate claims perpetuated by the non-meat lobby.

Question Two: Attracting New Talent and Breaking Stereotypes

Recruiting the next generation emerged as a shared concern.  Participants pointed to the challenge of changing negative perceptions of meat, especially when schools label it as detrimental to health.  The need to engage with schools to provide an accurate representation of the industry and leveraging social media as a communication tool were emphasised.  Acknowledging the industry’s ageing demographic, the discussion called for greater involvement of the younger generation in shaping the future of farming.

Question Three: Navigating Livestock Challenges and Ensuring Food Security

Livestock numbers and food security took centre stage in the conversation.  Suggestions included revisiting the grading system to reward producers aligning with industry requirements and providing additional financial support to farmers facing rising input costs.  Participants stressed the importance of ensuring that government policies understand and support food security requirements.  Concerns were raised about potential constraints on livestock production amid ambitious tree planting initiatives, emphasising the need for a balanced approach.

Question Four: Hopes and Aspirations for the Next Decade

As the discussion turned towards the future, panellists shared their hopes for the next decade.  Continuous innovation, unity within the industry, and the success of traditional meat production were underscored.  The collective aspiration was for ensuring the continued production of the best meat in the world.  The sentiment echoed a desire for resilience and growth within the industry.

Editor’s Note: These insights are condensed excerpts from a dynamic debate that included informed contributions from SAMW members and guests.  The event not only provided valuable perspectives but also set the stage for a promising 2024 in the meat industry.

Time to promote and support our domestic industry

It’s unnerving how much change has taken place over the past 12 months while, at the same time, how little has been achieved in terms of policy advances or the delivery of solutions to benefit Scotland’s red meat chain either in 2024 or beyond, says Ian Bentley, President of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers.

 

Ian Bentley

“Balancing positives and negatives is a common element of business management across all sectors, of course, especially when energy costs remain high, inflation and interest rates plague us all, and cost of living pressures constrain consumers’ spending powers,” he said in his annual New Year summary.

“For Scotland’s red meat industry, in particular, 2023 will be noted for a degree of business upheaval, driven by changes of ownership, although it’s encouraging that we have suffered no loss of processing capacity during this process.

“More worrying is the continuing annual decline in livestock numbers, despite relatively strong prices for producers throughout the past year. While the decline in 2023 has been small in percentage terms, the drip, drip, impact on our shrinking breeding herd is approaching a critical point.

“I have said before that this should be a source of concern to Government and a stimulus to move forward with an agriculture policy which recognises the importance of the meat industry to Scotland’s economy and incentivises increases in sustainable production. However, we are still to see any detailed proposals along these lines, and I fear that continuing uncertainty will result in a further reduction in numbers in 2024.

“This trend has several consequences. One is that a reduction in domestic production opens the door to increased imports of meat from across the world, potentially from countries whose standards of quality, welfare, and sustainability are inferior to our own. This surely cannot be right, yet some of the recent trade deals agreed by the UK Government seem expressly designed to open up our country to these sources.

“Given that our climate and terrain is ideally suited to farming for sustainable meat production, we should be promoting and supporting our domestic industry rather than undermining it, as so often seems to be the case. I hope that in 2024 we shall start to see positive signs in this direction.

“We also hope for sensible moves in relation to the regulation of our industry. All too often, regulatory friction inhibits trade, as we have seen in recent months with the introduction of vet attestation requirements for exports. It is difficult to justify this additional bureaucracy and we hope it will not hinder trade through 2024.

“The processes surrounding vet attestation is a prime example of low policy implementation in both 2022 and 2023. Originally scheduled for launch in December 2022, the policy was first delayed until December 2023 and is now scheduled for practical introduction in April 2024. All that has been achieved so far is uncertainty for those seeking to run commercial meat export businesses.

“In addition, the attestation requirement appears set to add to difficulties already being encountered concerning the availability of sufficient qualified vets to keep our industry running smoothly. Vet recruitment is fast becoming a major issue across the country, indeed across the world, and tying up the vets we already have with ever more form filling is a poor use of their expertise.

“We remain positive and upbeat about the quality base on which the Scottish meat industry is founded, nevertheless, from stock breeding through processing to strong trade contacts at home and abroad. These factors have never been in doubt. It would be helpful though if some of the limiting impacts I’ve already mentioned are properly and finally dealt with in 2024. That is certainly our hope for the new year.”

Rave reviews for Scotch Beef at top London restaurant

One of London’s most talked about new places to eat has credited the Scotch beef it serves for helping win rave reviews. Michelin-starred chefs and top food critics have been some of the first to book a table at The Devonshire, near Piccadilly Circus, since its opening in November.

 

The Devonshire Beef Room. Photo credit – Mike Taylor

Charlie Carroll, founder of the well-known Flat Iron steak restaurants, who is behind the new venture with business partner Oisin Rogers, commented: “It is very rewarding to be on the radar straight away after opening.”

   Selected by three Michelin starred chefs for Sunday lunch in its first week, and applauded by influential reviewers like Giles Coren (The Times), The Devonshire team source their all-important beef from SAMW member, AK Stoddart, prompting Charlie to declare that the Scotch Beef they’re serving stands ‘toe-to-toe with the finest from anywhere in the world’.

   Responding to such praise, Sarah Millar, CEO of Quality Meat Scotland, said: “This is a wonderful example of the farm to high-end tables that Scotch Beef, as a brand and a product, can achieve. The team at Stoddart’s has invested great care in ensuring that the meat supplied to Charlie, and his team, is consistently of exceptional quality with a fantastic associated story of dedicated farmers producing livestock to the highest of standards, from the landscapes of Scotland.”

SAMW reaction to QMS levy proposal

QMS proposal: QMS is asking the industry for an increase in the red meat levy to deliver the priorities outlined in its new five-year strategy.  From spring 2024 it is proposed that the red meat levy will increase each and every year for the next five years by the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Over the coming weeks QMS will finalise its draft business plan and will present this to producer and processor levy payers via a series of levy payer workshops in November and December, as well as one-to-one meetings with processors over the same time period.

SAMW comment: “A properly resourced QMS is important to promote our products, to seek new markets at home and abroad, and to defend our sector’s reputation,” said Scott Walker, Executive Manager for SAMW. “In this context, we are not opposed in principle to a change in the levy rate, but we need to be convinced of the benefit of the activities on which the levy will be spent.

“We look forward to discussing with QMS their new 5-year business plan for implementing their new strategy.  Value for money must be evident in everything QMS does.  We are not against a new long-term funding mechanism and will consider what is being proposed against what we see in the new 5-year business plan.  Levy rates need to be justified and increases should not be taken as a given.  Our member companies, for example, have to earn their income increases on a day-to-day/month-to-month basis.

“We want to see clear outputs that benefit the industry from the activities undertaken by QMS and clear timelines for achievement.  Regular reporting on the progress made against targets is needed to give us confidence that value is being secured from the levy collected.

“We will be judging the merits of an increase in the levy by the actions proposed in the business plan and will comment more fully once we have seen the details of the business plan.”

HCC & AHDB levy action

In addition to the levy plan advanced by QMS, both HCC and AHDB have already announced their own rate increases.

HCC levy rates increased by 10% in April 2023 and will going forward each and every year from now on in line with the annual inflation rate, as measured by the consumer price index including owner occupiers’ housing costs.

AHDB is proposing a different approach to both QMS and HCC. Instead of following an annual inflation-based system, AHDB is proposing a single uplift in 2024 of 25% for the cattle & sheep levy rates and 20% for the pig levy rate.

 

FSS & SAMW Strategic Engagement Plan

Food Business Operators (FBOs) in the red meat sector have a direct relationship with Food Standards Scotland (FSS) via its official controls, including inspections, enforcement, advice and guidance.

An ongoing dialogue between SAMW and FSS is important to ensure that future regulatory developments are fully reflective of the sector and are developed based on good knowledge and understanding of the red meat sector’s needs, challenges and opportunities.

In order to foster a strategic partnership between the regulated meat industry in Scotland and the regulator a strategic engagement plan has been developed to enhance communication channels and to build a strong and collaborative relationship between the regulator and the industry.

Within the engagement plan are regular technical groups for FBOs to take part in and regular opportunities for engagement between FSS and SAMW.

FSS & SAMW Strategic Engagement Plan

Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill – an opportunity to build confidence 

SAMW response to the Scottish Government’s publication of the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill:

“This an important step in allowing Ministers to make new payments and create new payment schemes for farmers.  The decisions taken now are vital to underpin the Scottish red meat sector which is worth more than £2.8bn and provides jobs for more than 39,000 people.

“What the industry needs to know is that there is support for livestock production in Scotland and that the support will be used to drive efficiency and reverse the decline in livestock numbers.  Investment by farmers and meat processors is determined by confidence in the future.  Now is an opportunity to set a future path that will build confidence across the industry.”

Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill

SAMW Annual Conference – strong words on policies and protecting our great industry

Speech by SAMW President, Ian Bentley, delivered to the annual conference in Edinburgh on September 1, 2023.

Cabinet Secretary, ladies, and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to welcome you to this year’s SAMW Conference. A year ago, we were cautiously celebrating the relaunch of our Conference after the years of the pandemic, while at the same time feeling the uncertainty of a world changed by an outbreak of war and strong economic head winds. Some of those uncertainties turned into reality and we are still dealing with them, but the impact of others, for example energy costs, have alleviated slightly.

Ian Bentley

As is right at our conferences, we aim to look forward rather than back, and I believe our invited speakers will help to illustrate for us what the future may look like and what we in the industry need to do to ensure it materialises. As always, there is much for us to do, but my main message is that Scotland’s meat industry needs help. We need help to reverse the long-term decline in livestock production in Scotland, a decline which, if it continues, will ultimately call into question the viability of our industry.

We know that at times over the years producers have been critical of farmgate prices, and this was often cited as the reason behind falling numbers. But returns over the past couple of years have improved considerably, yet we have not seen the stimulus to production which we might expect. Instead, the slow downward trend is continuing. I believe this is because we are not seeing the development of a clear, unequivocal policy of support and promotion for Scotland as a key producer of quality meat on the domestic and world stage, a policy which is actively encouraging and incentivising quality livestock production using sustainable practices. The absence of this clear policy harms confidence and contributes to the decline in numbers.

We welcome the boldness of Quality Meat Scotland’s 5-year strategy, but it needs to be underpinned by Government policies which are aligned and designed to make that vision happen.

Intent listeners to SAMW President’s speech: Kate Rowell, Chair, QMS, (left) and Mairi Gougeon, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs.

Scotland is one of the best places in the world to raise livestock for high quality meat in a sustainable way. We have water, we have grass, we have a temperate climate. We have very high standards of animal welfare and regulatory oversight. Despite the regular bashing which meat gets, consumers in many countries are proving to be very loyal to an omnivorous diet, and we know that as prosperity grows in emerging countries, their populations want to, and will, increase their consumption of meat products. Scotland should be gearing up to meet this increasing demand by introducing policies which support increased sustainable production.

But we are not alone. Other nations have recognised these global trends and are responding to them with coordinated activities which are designed to demonstrate the positive attributes of their production. Scotland needs to be joining, and winning, that race.

There is much for us to do as an industry. Carbon is a good place to start – there are great examples in our industry of advances in moving towards net zero. I suspect, however, that we are not doing enough to raise awareness of our progress so that we are not an easy target for those who delight in campaigning against meat production because of emissions. Emissions are not a reason to abandon or even reduce production in Scotland. Instead, emissions should be the subject of funded research and rational investigation to find the best way of minimising them, while also recognising the positive sustainable credentials of extensive production on grass. The easy answer – to reduce livestock numbers in Scotland – will simply encourage production in other countries which could be much more harmful to the environment.

An appreciate conference audience

Human health is another area for our industry to get its act together, but with strong sustained support by policies. We are starting to see a more sober and balanced attitude to meat eating emerging from opinion formers but there is more to be done. This year’s big target seems to be ultra processed foods and their detrimental impact on our health. So, other than a raw carrot, I ask you – what could be a less processed food than a steak, a chop, or a roasting joint? Meat substitute product ingredients lists read like a chemistry set. The ingredients list for a piece of meat, in contrast, is relatively short to the tune of one. But I don’t hear the pundits recognising the simple fact that meat is a natural unprocessed food with lots of essential health-giving attributes. We need to do more to get these messages across. We are not helped, however, when official bodies start taking pot shots – please help us to ensure a rational and sober presentation of the facts.

We have an industry of which Scotland can be proud and is indeed recognised worldwide as a source of excellence. I was in a supermarket in France recently which was proudly promoting its beef as Aberdeen Angus – an industry which should be seen as an opportunity for Scotland to advertise itself as a high-quality food producer – but an industry where its raw material continues to reduce year after year.

As Joni Mitchell said about Paradise and parking lots – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. I urge everyone who cares about our industry, and even those who don’t, to see the opportunity and the threat, and to make sure that as new policy details emerge, they are aimed clearly and unequivocally at enabling this industry to grow.