A SUBSTANTIAL rise in meat exports to Europe has helped boost Scotland’s food and drink exports to a record £5.5 billion.

Overall food and drink exports from Scotland grew by £421 million in 2016, representing an eight per cent increase in the value of exports from the food and drink sector over the past year.

In the meat category, Scotland increased exports by 11 per cent to £72m, of which 90 per cent was to Europe. Overall, food exports grew by 22 per cent to £1.5bn during 2016.

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Exports to EU countries were worth £2.3bn overall, up £133m, underlining the importance of access to European markets, according to Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing.

“The pursuit of a hard Brexit is a major threat to this success, and these figures show why we must work to protect Scotland’s place in Europe,” he said.

A recent industry survey revealed the key markets for Scotch beef and lamb in 2016 to be France and the Benelux economic union of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, which represented 67.8 per cent of beef and lamb exports from Scotland.

Exports of Scottish red meat to Germany increased by 23 per cent during the year. Exports to the Nordic countries, Poland and Baltic countries, and other central and eastern European countries rose by 19 per cent, 197 per cent and 444 per cent respectively in 2016.

Exports outside the EU, mainly to South Africa, Hong Kong and Thailand, represented 5.4 per cent of total of total Scottish red meat exports.

The rise in meat exports comes after efforts to promote the Protected Geographical Indication status of Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb. James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: “The game changer has been developing a national brand for Scottish produce in export markets, with industry and Government working hand in hand to invest in overseas trade experts and activity.”