SCOTLAND’S reputation as a leading purveyor of some of the world’s finest products could be under threat as a result of a no-deal Brexit.

Scottish Government sources revealed to the Sunday National that the Conservative’s Brexit strategy could see “Scotland the Brand” damaged beyond repair, with red, white and blue UK labelling taking the place of the specific, authentic Scottish origin labels.

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A number of quality products from Scotland, such as whisky, beef, lamb and Scottish salmon, all benefit from Geographical Indication (GI) status.

This classification is awarded to products which have an origin directly related to their quality. This is true for the qualities, characteristics and reputation of many Scottish products and GI status is among the reasons why Speyside or Islay whisky and Aberdeen Angus beef command premium prestige and price.

The National:

This week, it emerged that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Scotland would lose these protections and producers would have to reapply to the European Commission to regain the status they currently hold.

And, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), headed up by Michael Gove, intends to adorn all protected produce after-Brexit, whether or not there is a deal to leave the EU, with new red, white and blue UK labelling.

Deidre Brock MP, the SNP’s Westminster spokesperson on Environment and Rural Affairs, claimed that this would diminish Scotland’s global brand power at a crucial time for exports.

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“Scotch whisky, Scottish salmon, Scotch beef and lamb – these are consummate Scottish brands with a reputation for top quality the world over,” she said.

“Aside from the obvious enormity of losing access to the EU single market to sell these products, there are two other immediate risks which place Scotland the Brand in mortal peril.”

She went on: “The disaster of a no-deal Brexit could mean all protections currently afforded under Geographical Indication would cease. Producers would have to reapply, at huge potential cost and inconvenience. And even then there’s no guarantee of regaining existing status.”

Emma Harper MSP, who sits on Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution Committee, also criticised the potential move.

“There’s a further grave risk to how Scottish produce is marketed around the world. Currently European regulations provide robust quality control and legal protections, while certification marks on the products themselves are modest and unfussy,” she said. “Everyone knows the Saltire is the globally recognised mark for quality food and drink from Scotland. But amid the chaos of Brexit, Michael Gove wants to slap a Union Jack logo across a bottle of Speyside malt whisky and call it British.

“Scotland’s food and drink exports are too valuable to be put at risk by some self-defeating Tory exercise in diminishing our nation’s brand and global status,” she added.

The National:

And there are wider elements at play. It was reported last year that American trade negotiators were calling for the abandonment of Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) status in order to enable UK-US trade.

These labels also defend certain produce from cheap or inauthentic imitations. Incidents of food poisoning are reportedly 40% higher in the States than in the UK, for example.

PGI logos are the property of the EU and, as EU food traditions are held in high esteem, this means that any new classification could take a significant amount of time to be recognised and could incur considerable costs.

Speaking to the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster last year, Keep Scotland the Brand campaign founder Ruth Watson raised the issues which could arise of standards being allowed to drop.

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She told the committee: “The Americans want to sell their Black Angus Steak and the Australians want to sell their Scotch fillets over here, but both are products which have growth hormones and antibiotics used in them; which is not legal in the EU.”

The current protections mean that cheaper competitors can’t undercut local producers. The NFU launched a spectacular defence against allowing cheap imports after Brexit, with president Minette Batters stating that such moves should be “fought to the death”.

Watson told the Sunday National: “When even a stray comma can see a contract in court for weeks haggling over a dispute, these PGI proposals would appear to have more legal gaps than yer da’s string vest.

“This does not convince me Defra is committed to farming, far less the needs of farmers, our crucial food and drink sector or the need to keep Scotland the Brand.”

Defra said the GI scheme had to be UK-wide to be compatible with World Trade Organisation rules

A spokesperson added: “It is completely untrue to say GI protections will be lost when we leave the EU.

“We’ve already set out how our schemes will work here and been clear existing UK products registered under EU GI schemes, from Scotch whisky to Stornoway Black Pudding, will automatically get UK GI status, ensuring their unique heritage and quality is safeguarded.

"GIs are very important to the UK, both culturally and economically ... and by safeguarding GI status we will ensure that these brands, and the areas they evoke and represent, will maintain their global appeal.

"As well as clearly setting out that we will establish specific GI schemes to protect UK GIs in the future, we’ve introduced a new civil sanctions regime to improve enforcement of Protected Food Name products. This will help local authorities to recover the costs of enforcement action on misuse of Protected Food Names."