A NEW breed of steak detective will catch out conmen who pass off inferior meat as Scotch beef.
Sophisticated new tests mean the tiniest sliver of steak is enough to enable the team to work out which farm the animal was raised on.
And that could save the Scottish industry much of the millions of pounds each year lost to counterfeiters who pass off foreign meat as the genuine product.
The tests allow the inspectors to measure isotopes in the meat which tell them the type of grass the animal ate, the type of land it grazed on and how far it lived from the sea.
That information, once put through a database of samples from Scotland, is detailed enough to pinpoint the individual farm which reared the animal.
The inspectors will be able to confirm that a steak is genuine Aberdeen Angus – or that it is a fake from Brazil or Ireland.
Quality Meat Scotland and the Food Standards Agency spent five years and £500,000 developing the tests.
Later this month, teams of inspectors will start to turn the investment on to wholesalers and restaurateurs suspected of ripping off the legitimate industry.
Andy McGowan, spokesman for Quality Meat Scotland, said: “We are really excited the test is finally being rolled out.
“The end result is a fantastic test that both protects the interests of Scotch beef consumers and supports the farmers who invest time and money ensuring they produce a world-leading product.”
Scotch beef typically costs 15% more in restaurants than other cuts and generated more than £570m last year.
Anyone who labels meat from elsewhere as Scotch beef faces a fine or up to six months in prison but proving the fraud has been difficult before now.
The inspectors will take 1.5oz samples of meat and send them away for analysis.
The tests depend on the fact that the chemical make-up of the beef depends on what the animal ate while it was alive and differences found in farm fields across the country.
Measuring isotopes – variant forms of chemicals – in the samples makes it possible to pinpoint the source of the meat.
Clive Davidson, who runs a steak restaurant near Linlithgow, West Lothian, said the tests were “wonderful”.
He said: “There isn’t enough Aberdeen Angus in the fields to feed the amount of restaurants claiming to be serving it.
“Far too many people are putting Aberdeen Angus on the menu and serving up Brazilian beef on the table.”
Government body Scotland Food and Drink said the new tests will have a “real commercial benefit”.
“It will also protect consumers by giving them the assurance that when they buy a product that says it is from Scotland on the label, they can enjoy the quality they expect,” he said.