NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

DNA being used to trace history of Scottish meat products

Beef cattle at auction in Ayr Image copyright Getty Images

DNA samples are being used to allow Scottish meat products to be traced right back to the exact animal they are from.

The new scheme has been introduced by supermarket chain Marks and Spencer.

It is hoped the use of the technology could further enhance the reputation of Scottish red meat around the world.

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) said that the industry already generates £2bn annually for the Scottish economy and supports 50,000 jobs in Scotland.

At a farm near Dunbar, in East Lothian, Niall Jeffrey raises beef cattle, and is part of the new process.

He told BBC Scotland's Landward programme: "So every calf born here is tagged at about 24/48 hours old with two plastic tags that have our herd mark which is unique to our farm, and an individual ID number which is unique to that animal.

"We then register it with BCMS, which is a government database, they then send us back a passport which has relevant information to the animal on like breeding, parentage, date of birth and its unique number."

Image caption Niall Jeffrey is part of the new process

These tags have been compulsory for many years, but now Marks and Spencer has introduced the new scheme which it says will follow the meat from each of the cattle from farms such as Mr Jeffrey's to the supermarket shelf, and even each individual item bought by a food shopper.

Each animal's passport is scanned at the abattoir and the ear tag number recorded.

The carcass is then swabbed, and a DNA sample taken.

Image caption Technology is being used to track each animal from farm to supermarket

The DNA record means that a packet can be tested, providing information about any meat that contributed to it, right back to the specific animal on a farm.

Steve McLean, the head of agriculture and fisheries at Marks and Spencer, said: "DNA is unique genetic fingerprint.

Genetic fingerprint

"It's closely associated with a crime scene, it works in the same way, we are able to trace the product regardless of how complex a final retail product that we are making is and we can work it back the way.

"So it gives us the genetic fingerprint of all the animals that make up that final retail product."

Image caption Steve McLean from Marks and Spencer believes it can only help quality

He explained: "Through the work that we are doing we are able to identify lines that are more efficient, that give better eating quality.

"For me when we take that information and we build it back into breeding programs we will make our Scottish farming base all the more efficient and that's got to be good for the industry."

'The best reputation'

Alan Clarke, from Quality Meat Scotland, thinks it will benefit the industry both at home and abroad.

He said: "I have just returned last week from a trade delegation to Japan and I can assure you that Scotch beef has the best reputation in the world so we are starting from a fantastic place.

"The Scottish red meat industry generates £2bn for the Scottish economy, it supports 50,000 jobs in Scotland - anything we can do to continually build on that we are very comfortable with."

Image caption Cattle are now being DNA tested

Mr Clarke explained: "That reputation is based on quality assurance and it's not just quality assurance on farm, it's quality assurance with hauliers, with feed merchants, with auction marts, and also with processors, and Scotland has been the pioneer in leading this quality assurance.

"We are always looking at new technologies, we are always looking at new ways of doing things and anything such as this initiative which could help to enhance the world class standards that we have we would support."

You can see this story on the BBC's Landward programme on the BBC Scotland channel on Thursday at 20:30, and on Friday on BBC One Scotland at 19:30, as well as on the iPlayer.

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