The Scottish Government announced last Friday that it is enacting new laws to protect consumers in the wake of the recent European horsemeat scandal.

The legislation — to be included in the Scottish Government’s Food Standards Scotland Bill that will create the new food body for Scotland — will give officers new enforcement powers to seize food that does not meet food standards or labeling rules. It will also be compulsory to report non-compliance with food standards regulations, which cover food fraud.

The move is one of a range of measures announced by the Scottish Government in response to two expert group reports that were commissioned following the horsemeat fraud incident that rocked Europe.

The Expert Advisory Group, led by former Chief Vet Professor Jim Scudamore, was asked by Public Health Minister Michael Matheson to look at food and feed safety and standards in Scotland ahead of the establishment of a new food body. In addition, Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, commissioned Ray Jones’ Expert Advisory Group to consider traceability and labeling in the red meat sector.

Other immediate action taken by the Scottish Government and partners includes:

  • Additional Food Standards Agency (FSA) Scotland funding to extend meat testing, with work underway to enable the identification of Scotch branded beef in future.
  • The preparation of additional guidance on public sector food procurement in Scotland.
  • Asking retailers for more clarity in how they label red meat products as Scottish.
  • £1 million extra support given earlier this year to Quality Meat Scotland to strengthen consumer awareness of the provenance that underpins the Scotch label.
  • A further £1 million investment, also announced earlier this year, for the development of a multi-species livestock database to improve traceability.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said: “We need to be able to trust the food we buy. We must know what is in our food and it must be safe to eat.

“The horsemeat scandal severely dented consumer confidence here in Scotland and across Europe. That is why the Scottish Government and our partners, including the FSA, are taking tough action to protect consumers and ensure food quality and safety," he continued.

“Our vision for Scotland’s new food body is that its primary focus will be consumer protection. It will make sure food in Scotland is safe to eat and it will improve the diet and nutrition of people in Scotland," Matheson added. "Given the importance of food safety, and the value of the Scottish food industry to our economy, we must ensure we have a robust regulatory regime for food in Scotland.”

Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said: “As the scale and scope of the horsemeat fraud unfolded across Europe, consumers in Scotland turned to Scottish-produced red meat which is world-renowned for its superb quality and impeccable provenance — a tremendous vote of confidence in the arrangements we have in place in this country.

"Nevertheless, this Government is determined to take action to further strengthen our defenses and to build on the high levels of confidence in Scottish red meat," Lochhead continued. "The comprehensive suite of measures which we and our partners are taking in our response to both reports will be important steps for the future of our red meat sector. Crucially, they will give Scottish consumers additional confidence that they can be sure of the provenance, quality and safety of the red meat they consume."

Lochhead added, "The EU needs to take this issue seriously as consumers need to be able to trust what they buy, and it is important that their confidence is not undermined by deliberate fraud and food mislabeling."

Catherine Brown, FSA chief executive, said: “We welcome these reports from the Expert Groups led by Professor Jim Scudamore and Ray Jones, and have worked closely with Scottish Government to agree our responses to their respective recommendations. We look forward now to progressing this work, as part of the FSA’s UK-wide action plan to address relevant recommendations from the reviews into the horsemeat incident that have been commissioned in different parts of the UK.”

The Ray Jones report is available here. The Scottish Government’s response to that report may be viewed here. The Scottish Government’s response to the Scudamore report is available here.