Scottish food standards officials have denied allegations of a cover-up of investigations into the mislabelling of Scottish beef.

Food Standards Scotland was accused of “undermining its own credibility” by the Scottish press after denying reports it was investigating beef fraud despite a recorded conversation with a senior member of its food crime unit suggesting otherwise.

The conversation, between a reporter from The Courier and the intelligence manager of FSS’s Scottish Food Crime & Incidents Unit Duncan Smith, suggested the new food crime unit had information that beef from Eastern Europe, Ireland and England was being imported and repackaged as premium Scottish meat.

“We are aware of cheaper, inferior meat coming in from out of Scotland whereby it’s processed and it leaves as Scottish beef,” said Smith in the conversation. “It is something we’re very interested in and trying to get to the bottom of.”

The FSS subsequently denied an investigation was underway, insiting there was a “clear separation” between having intelligence and launching a formal investigation. “The fact that we have information and are looking into it does not constitute an investigation,” said a spokesman.

This prompted critics to accuse the agency of hiding the investigation to protect the meat industry, but in a statement issued this week, FSS CEO Geoff Ogle insisted any suggestion of a cover-up was “just wrong”.

“We would like to apologise if there has been any confusion and we look forward to continuing the close working relationships we have with industry, responsible food businesses and consumers in Scotland,” he added.

“To be clear, currently there is no public safety threat regarding Scottish beef and that to withhold any information which has potential to harm the health of consumers in Scotland goes against the entire principle of this organisation.”