I’ve just returned from a fabulous trip to Australia visiting family – the first time in more than two years we’ve been, courtesy of Covid.

The last time many parts of the country were burning – this time, many had been flooded after the wettest start to the year on record.

When visiting other countries, I love looking at their food and particularly their red meat offerings, especially in a country like Australia.

Not surprisingly, Australians have always been great supporters of locally sourced food and are great red meat eaters. I’m sorry to say that the beef and lamb that we ate was the most consistent, the best quality and taste of any country I’ve ever visited, including South Africa, which famous for its’ steak.

This was true of supermarket meat from Coles, Woolworths and Harris Farm Markets, to butcher’s shops (many offering an excellent on line home delivery service), as well as speciality restaurants, the best of which was in Sydney called the Botswana Butchery.

Scotland produces some wonderful meat, but it doesn’t find its way through all these various supply chains to customers as consistently as the Australians seem to manage it. The price which Australian grass fed suckler beef is achieving for its farmers is now higher than ours, despite the obvious input cost advantages Australian producers enjoy, especially at the moment.

Their focus on meat eating quality is crystal clear and has resulted in tangible producer benefits for years, never more so than now. Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) has a clear and singular purpose, namely 'to foster the long-term prosperity of the Australian red meat and livestock industry.' MLA is a service provider to the red meat industry, not an industry representative body, or lobby group.

Contrast MLA with QMS, which describes itself as 'an executive non-departmental public body of the Scottish government which promotes the red meat sector and markets the Protected Geographic Indication Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb brands'.

Of course, these are just strap lines but even the language tells you all you need to know about the way these organisations operate. One mired in bureaucracy, like a civil service department; one innovative and focussed on delivery – unfortunately, despite Scotland being a country renowned for invention and entrepreneurial flair, QMS has become the former, it effectively is now a civil service department.

While Australia is totally committed to improving the eating experience of their red meat, which in turn has driven up its’ value, the QMS website answers its own question, 'Does Scotland have good meat?', in a bizarre way. The answer apparently is 'Scotland leads the way in quality assurance standards when it comes to animal welfare. This means that you can enjoy peace of mind when enjoying healthy and delicious Scottish meat'.

Here was me thinking it was taste and texture that customers were after – how stupid of me!!

In answer to the $64,000 question, 'Does Scotland have the best beef?', the answer is more bizarre. It states: “Scottish Beef is renowned the world over and quite rightly so. But why should this be? With the help of Donald Russell …. we found out why. It seems to be that climate, soil type and overall topography simply create the perfect conditions for beef cattle to thrive.”

So, it would appear by QMS’ very public statement that meat eating quality is governed by the luck of the draw and where you happen to rear cattle. What a load of absolute nonsense, but it maybe partly explains why we have done little or nothing as an industry to address this issue in 20 years.

Individuals and individual businesses, be they butchers or meat companies, have developed their own unique selling points (USPs) but we have no co-ordinated strategy or goal to improve the consistency of the eating experience of Scotch Beef and Lamb.

In fact, my heart sank while reflecting on my Australian experiences when I read the latest news from QMS. Apparently it will try and produce a report (another one) later this year on meat eating quality. This will and I quote, 'define what meat eating quality means and then see if there are practical ways of improving it as the first steps in developing a Scottish system. As part of this system, we [QMS] will look at the EUROP grid in the realisation that it is not driven by eating quality (really we would never have guessed!). Of course, we [QMS] will be engaging with processors and the wider industry as we progress.”

Well, that’s the end of that, then. Into the long grass it goes again. While the world moves on and leaves Scotland behind, we simply keep talking about all these fantastic opportunities that others just get on and deliver.

We can only tell folk for so long that our beef is the best in the world because eventually they will discover that actually, it isn’t! Or maybe they have already and that’s why the hard-won Scotch premium has vanished!

Meanwhile, in the absence of any strategy at all for the beef (or sheep) sectors, how many of you are aware that QMS have set up yet another committee? This one is called, (wait for it), the 'Scottish red meat industry net zero and nature restoration roadmap steering group'.

Apparently, this is going to create a roadmap detailing what the footprint of the meat sector is and what it needs to do to meet the Scottish Government targets to achieve net zero by 2045. Of course, this group will no doubt have every man and his dog across the supply chain represented on it (they always do) and SAC Consulting have been appointed to deliver this – well, of course they have!

I am reliably informed by more than one of the attendees at the first meeting that it will be yet another talking shop doing ScotGov’s bidding. It won’t report until October, 2023 and by then, like most of these other endless groups and committees, the conclusions will be so watered down as to be irrelevant and the world will have moved on.

Incidentally, grass-fed Australian suckler beef is already promoting its’ sustainability and climate change benefits, while we do nothing.

Actually, that’s not true. The Agriculture Reforms Implementation Oversight Board has managed to announce a real game changer by offering £500 for soil sampling after nine months of deliberation and this latest nonsense will be no better. Embarrassing and irrelevant don’t come close to describing this.

So, while the Australians (and others) get on with real initiatives and delivering measurable added-value outcomes for producers, we seem content with forming committees to talk amongst each other. Sad, but true.

This poem I found on-line perfectly sums up where we are in Scotland as far as agriculture policy is right now, at a critical time when we need decisive leadership and actions:

Oh give me your pity, I’m on a committee,

Which means that from morning to night,

We attend and amend and contend and defend

Without a conclusion in sight.

We confer and concur, we defer and demur,

And reiterate all of our thoughts.

We revise the agenda with frequent addenda

And consider a load of reports.

We compose and propose, we suppose and oppose,

And points of procedure we shun,

But though various notions are brought up as motions,

There’s terribly little gets done.

We resolve and absolve, but we never dissolve,

Since it’s out of the question for us.

What a shattering pity to end our committee.

Where else could we make such a fuss?