“BRANDS MATTER and it’s not about flags or nationalism but about the economy – when we are looking at communities that are losing jobs we need to do everything we can to get an edge.”

Those were the sentiments of ‘Keep Scotland the Brand’ campaigner Ruth Watson when she met with the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster to stress the importance of protecting Scotland’s Protected Geographical Indication foodstuffs as trade deals are negotiated post-Brexit.

In recent months, concerns have been raised that Union Jacks have been replacing Saltires on the packaging of Scottish-produced food in some supermarkets, causing farmers to worry about the loss of both the price and reputational premiums associated with Scottish origin.

More specifically, there have been reports that US trade negotiators plan to make the abandonment of PGI status a requirement of direct trading with the UK.

Ms Watson told the committee why a clear place of origin was key for marketing the Scottish brand: “PGI mean that we can track from farm to fork a product's provenance and local provenance is good for global sales. It is stringently checked as opposed to the Little Red Tractor scheme which is pretty meaningless – you fill out a form and send it off,” she claimed.

“The farm assurance scheme under PGI means so much to the returns for a farmer, who receives 12% more per head of cattle. This translates as £146 per head of cattle over what a farmer in England and Wales would get."

Ms Watson warned of future trade deals which would undermine the Scotch premium: “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 antibiotic use in them; which is not legal in the EU as it is thought some of the growth hormones might be carcinogens to people. Therefore, PGI is essential as it means protection!” she said.

Lindesay Low from the Law Society of Scotland also gave evidence to the committee and explained how important PGI status has been in promoting Scottish products.

“There are three main benefits that geographical indicators bestow, firstly to producers, protecting their reputation and ensuring their quality won’t be undercut by foreign competitors cutting corners. Secondly, it protects consumers, so they know if they are buying a Stornoway black pudding or an Arbroath smoky it is guaranteed to have been made in that traditional place,” he continued. “Thirdly it has a broader national advantage beyond the trader’s individual benefits. GI products are sold at a premium and are typically made in rural areas and that means people can invest, create jobs and there is an opportunity to promote tourism in particular parts of the country,” stated Mr Low.

Dr Gail Evans from Queen Mary University in London added: “GI, unlike the trademark, is not transferrable as it operates on the land and is a collective form of intellectual property, belonging to producers in that area. If a farmer moves out of that area then they have no rights to use that protection,” she explained.

“It gives local communities security over land and agricultural industrialisation. It protects them from Big global conglomerates moving in and buying up land.”

Ms Watson came under criticism for her own ‘Keeping Scotland the Brand” campaign in what some members of the committee suggested was a boycott against British produce and a movement with undertones of Scottish nationalism, to which she replied: “This is not a boycott campaign against the Union Jack. We are strictly non-political and running a positive campaign for provenance,”

When questioned by Tommy Sheppard MP, if Defra’s 'Great' campaign could work in tow with Scotland the brand, she said that having a British stamp on Scottish produce could be damaging:

“Local provenance is good for global sales and Defra’s 'Great' campaign puts a broad stroke across that,” she insisted. “Having a great British stamp on Shetland lamb will not help it sell in Italy for example. Yes, there are countries where Scotland isn’t a well-known brand and using a British brand is a way to piggy back into that market but Defra's campaign will only be of value when they work with Scottish producers and not simply impose on them,” she concluded.