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25 February 2013
Personal View: Richard Lochhead

Personal View: Richard Lochhead

When the scandal of Mad Cow Disease struck it sent a shockwave through the food industry.

As the clamour from the media and general public grew for proof that the food on their plate was safe to eat, UK agriculture minister John Gummer stoked controversy by feeding his daughter Cordelia a beefburger before the cameras — this time around we have seen that personal focus resurface — with Chancellor George Osborne being presented a Spag Bol ready meal.

Richard Lochhead as Rural Affairs and Environment Secretary since 2007 —and before then the SNP’s spokesman while in opposition on various agricultural and environmental issues since 1999 — said he was shocked at the horsemeat scandal.

Lochhead, who lives in the rural constituency of Moray with his wife and two children said: “Even I, who regularly does the shopping at home for my family and I’m involved in taking forward food policy in Scotland, find myself taking jut that extra closer look at the label on the food I buy.

“I think all people, including myself make assumptions when we’re buying food. We know that you may have to pay a little more for better quality, but you don’t expect any product — irrespective of its price — to have one meat substituted for another which is not on the label.

“It’s not part of our culture to eat horse and that’s why I think we’ve found this particular scandal shocking.

“People feel deceived, I don’t think consumers are totally surprised to learn food businesses being asked to source food at rock-bottom prices end up perhaps cutting corners, but when that results in illegal activity and meat substitution, that clearly is shocking.” His hope is that the crisis will serve as a wake-up call to businesses, retailers and the public, to pay more attention to their food.

“The irony is in Scotland we’ve got on our own doorstep, thousands of food businesses providing unbelievable quality food. I bought a pack of beefburgers at Kinloss farm shop at the weekend when I took my family to the play area and they were outstanding.

“But I know that option and indeed the cost is not open to many families and we have to find ways of extending more quality into all the food we buy.” However, he added this scandal was “a million miles from BSE”.

“This is, in many ways, a unique food scandal which is about dishonesty and deception. It is not a food scare in terms of having implications for human health.” He is adamant that the Scottish Government’s response to the scandal has been “ahead of the curve” despite claims from the opposition that it was too slow and said that when the initial scandal broke, he spoke to the Food Standards Agency in Scotland — which still has responsibility for inspections north of the border — and said he had asked them to undertake inspections of all processing plants “within days”.

He has since announced the creation of two expert groups; one to advise on the “imminent” creation of a new stand-alone Food Standards Agency and the other to look at how to improve traceability and information on the provenance of Scottish food.

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