“It is important that we in government balance the benefits and burdens of regulations and standards,” said Lochhead. “That is a responsibility Scottish ministers take very seriously.” He was speaking at Symposium 2012, an event jointly held by the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, the Institute of Food Science and Technology and the Royal Environment Health Institute of Scotland.
He said the current successful performance and reputation of Scotland’s food industry was “underpinned and protected by a framework of regulations and standards”.
“These provide the basis to ensure that our products are of the high quality that consumers expect, that they are safe and healthy to eat and that they contribute to the sustainability of our shared environment.”
In addition, he said enforcement bodies helped to protect Scottish products from counterfeit copies. “We also need to ensure that others do not take advantage of our hard-won reputation by falsely claiming Scottish provenance. This is why the work done by our enforcement bodies is vital. I thank them for their hard work and continued vigilance to ensure the authenticity of products on the shop shelf.”
Lochhead also called on the food and drink industry to work with government agencies to protect and improve the environment. His plea followed the launch of a consultation between the Scottish government and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency on better environmental regulation.
“The consultation is not about introducing new obligations,” he said. “Rather, it is about how we all work together to better protect and improve Scotland’s environment.
“That is particularly important for the food and drink industry, who rely on many of our natural assets for ingredients. It is also important because of the opportunities our environment can offer in supporting our reputation
“The consultation is focused on how we deliver environmental compliance moving forward so that resources are deployed where they most add value. We must protect the environment and reduce unnecessary burden on those who are regulated.”
Scotland’s food and drink industry was performing “incredibly well” even in the current economic climate, according to Lochhead. Total food and drink exports for the country had reached an all-time high of £5.4bn in 2011, an increase of 19% on the previous year. Total food and drink manufacturing sales had passed the £9bn mark and as a result the industry was set to reach its target of £12.5bn by 2017 well ahead of schedule.
“I am incredibly proud to say that you are on track to reach this target later this year – a whole five years earlier than we ever imagined. That is an astonishing achievement.”