Local Food is Miles Better Campaign
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S2M-4590, in the name of John Scott, on the Farmers Weekly local food is miles better campaign.
That the Parliament supports the Farmers Weekly’s Local Food is Miles Better campaign; believes that buying locally grown food is an excellent way for consumers to reconnect with farmers and develop a better understanding of where their food comes from; recognises that producing and buying food locally from farmers’ markets and farm shops can help the environment, boost the local economy and restore trust in food production; further recognises that locally produced food is likely to be fresher, healthier and have higher vitamin levels, and considers that all food retail outlets, in Ayrshire and throughout Scotland, should promote, label and stock more locally produced food to cut food miles and carbon emissions in order to protect our environment and support our farmers.
John Scott (Ayr) (Con): I declare an interest, as a farmer and the president of the Scottish Association of Farmers Markets. I thank the members who have taken the time to attend the debate and the 38 members who supported the motion on the Farmers Weekly local food is miles better campaign. It is appropriate to debate the motion as we approach the end of what has been a hugely successful Scottish food fortnight. The Scottish Countryside Alliance Educational Trust is to be warmly congratulated on its fortnight’s work, which has involved a huge number of events in the Parliament and elsewhere, all of which were designed to raise the profile of Scottish food.
The farmers market event in the garden lobby last week brought to the Parliament a flavour of what is possible when local producers combine to take their product to an event, creating a memorable experience. In conjunction with the farmers market accreditation event that Christine Grahame hosted last night, the event demonstrated that local food production for local people is now a significant and growing market.
The reasons for that are plain to see. First, local food is better because it is fresher and has higher vitamin levels as a result. Local food is often less processed, so it is less likely to have high salt and fat levels and is healthier as a result. Local food is also more sustainable, in that it has travelled less distance from farm gate to plate, which is increasingly important in a world that is becoming more environmentally conscious by the day. Shipping fruit and vegetables halfway round the world does not make environmental sense when they could be grown in Scotland or the rest of the
United Kingdom, if not in the open air, then certainly under polythene. Indeed, the agriculture and rural development directorate-general in Brussels is looking into research that suggests that fruit and vegetables grown under polythene near to metropolitan areas across Europe will be one of the next significant developmental areas, as sophisticated consumers demand fresh, local and sustainably grown fruit and vegetables.
Interestingly, research carried out for WWF by the Stockholm Environment Institute concluded that buying British food could reduce the ecological footprint by up to 54 per cent compared with a diet based on imported food. When one considers that food miles pump approximately 20 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually in the United Kingdom, accounting for 1.8 per cent of the total UK carbon dioxide emissions, one can really see the benefits of buying local food, and the more local it is, the better.
Local food sold at farmers markets and farm shops is also providing an enhanced tourist experience for people from all over the world. That is important as we seek to attract more tourists to rural Scotland. EatScotland, ably chaired by David Whiteford, is also helping to develop Scotland as a gourmet eating destination, much of which is based on local food.
Some of the bricks that we can build on are already in place, but we have to march on more quickly. We have to make our healthier local food more available to local children, as has been successfully piloted in East Ayrshire. Local food must also be made more available through the further development of food co-operatives in high deprivation areas, and the cross-party group on food is already looking into that.
Networks must be put in place and contracts negotiated to make local food more available to help improve our national diet, for example in our hospitals, schools and prisons. Our Parliament must start using and showcasing Scottish food, demonstrating our belief in Scottish food to the many visitors to our building. Local food should also be labelled as such, perhaps with information on the food miles travelled shown on the label.
Scottish food should be marketed as an eating experience. Indeed, Microsoft vice-president, Bob McDowell, highlighted that as a unique Scottish opportunity when he addressed the cross-party group on the Scottish economy earlier this year. Food tourism is already worth more than £900 million to Scotland’s tourism industry, a figure that could increase significantly given encouragement. Perhaps that is something that the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Patricia Ferguson, might want to consider as the homecoming in 2009 approaches.
Local food is perhaps the fastest-growing part of the food retail market, and a huge opportunity exists to develop it further with benefits to our health, environment and economy. We must seize that opportunity with both hands. It is potentially a huge win-win situation for health, the environment and the economy, but Government departments must start talking to one another in a more joined-up way.
The Scottish food and health council appears to have the right idea, but all Government agencies must start acting together to realise the potential of local food, as the total benefit to Scotland could be so much greater than the sum of the parts.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: A considerable number of members want to speak, so speeches will be limited to three minutes.
Ms Maureen Watt (North East Scotland) (SNP): I welcome the chance to debate the motion, and I thank John Scott for coming on board the Farmers Weekly campaign, albeit at least a month after my motion on the subject was lodged. Perhaps we can add the 33 who signed my motion to the 38 who signed his. There is some duplication, but nevertheless 55 members have signed either one motion or the other.
I understand that John Scott was told to lodge the motion, no doubt so that the Tories can attempt to curry favour with rural voters in the run-up to the election next May.
John Scott: Will the member give way?
Ms Watt: Just a minute.
The Tories might be credible if they supported the countryside in the round, which includes public transport, but no Tories were present at this time last Wednesday when we discussed the problems that bus deregulation and the lack of sustainable bus transport in rural and urban areas have caused. The rest of us wonder about the Tories’ commitment to the rural economy.
It was deregulation under the Government of John Scott’s party that brought dairy farmers into their present state of despair. For 60 years, the milk marketing boards trod a fine line between producer and consumer, whereby none made a fortune but none starved, either. Since Thatcher swept aside the boards under her drive for deregulation, supermarkets have charged over the odds for milk and processors have paid less than the cost of production.
John Scott: Does the member have anything positive to say about the development of local food? She is two minutes into her speech and has not said one thing about it.
Ms Watt: I was just making the point that milk is part of local food, yet the Conservatives say nothing about it. The margin between the production costs and selling price of milk is so large that processors can afford to haul milk—some of it not even from Scotland—north, south, east and west, while thinking nothing of the amount of diesel that is wasted in doing that. Is any Tory here big enough to stand up tonight and say that Thatcher was wrong? It is funny how milk is not included in the local food campaign.
Of course local food must be given a higher profile. Every time a town gets a supermarket that threatens local businesses—my colleague Fergus Ewing’s constituency is to have yet another supermarket—a farmers market should be established in the town centre. That would encourage people into the town and help local businesses to grow rather than put them at risk from the supermarkets. It is all very well for a parliamentary committee to examine the issue, but local authorities are doing a huge amount of work with farmers markets. Once again, the Government at a Scottish national level is not meeting local needs. We should help and encourage lots of local initiatives and we are not doing enough of that.
Ms Rosemary Byrne (South of Scotland) (Sol): I congratulate John Scott on securing the debate, which I very much welcome. Many of us have considered and discussed the issue over a long period. I visited one of the schools in East Ayrshire that is involved in the locally produced foods project and I was impressed not only by the quality of the food—while there, I was given a school meal—but by the education of parents and their involvement in the project. I would love to see locally produced foods in our schools, hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. That is doable and I wish that the Parliament would get on with addressing the issue.
Last week, I thoroughly enjoyed going round the farmers market stalls in the Parliament. I have not tasted tomatoes so nice since I ate my father’s home-grown tomatoes years ago—I was reminded of that. The event was terrific.
Food miles harm the environment. Transporting food over large distances uses much fuel, whether it travels by lorry or plane. That means more carbon dioxide emissions and more global warming. Since 1978, the amount of food that is moved in the United Kingdom by heavy goods vehicles has increased by 23 per cent and the average distance for each trip has jumped by 50 per cent.
Food miles reduce freshness. The further food must travel, the longer it spends in transit. That means that vitamins are lost and, inevitably, nutritional values decline. Imports of indigenous foods rose from 13.5 million tonnes in 1992 to 16.1 million tonnes in 2002.
Food miles make us lose our sense of seasonality. Being able to buy strawberries in January can be appealing, but is it a good idea to ship seasonal fruit and vegetables thousands of miles across the world when, if we waited a few months, we could buy them from a few miles away? Actively giving priority to buying foods that are in season is an easy way of cutting food miles. If all foods were sourced from within 20km of where they are consumed, the country would save £2.1 billion in environmental and congestion costs.
Food miles can hurt the environment in third-world countries. Although much of the farming in the third world is just as sustainable as that here in Europe, some is not. Most consumers would not be comfortable with buying food from countries that routinely fell rain forests to plant crops, for example. An area of rain forest equivalent to 10 football pitches is destroyed every second.
Food miles can hurt third-world farmers. The domination of food production for profit can force those farmers to farm foods for the export market, rather than for use in their countries. Once they are tied into the marketplace and farmers are forced to buy seeds from and to sell the finished product to the same multinationals, they are at risk of sliding further into poverty.
Finally, the welfare of animals is a big issue. The transportation of animals over a long distance is not good, and we do not get good quality at the end of the process.
Nora Radcliffe (Gordon) (LD): I congratulate John Scott on bringing this debate to the chamber. It is an excellent way of rounding off Scottish food fortnight in the Parliament. We have had two tremendous weeks during which food has dominated Holyrood. There have been loads of events, covering every aspect of food. No one can be left in doubt of the quality of the food that is produced in Scotland. I congratulate the organisers of Scottish food fortnight, which gets bigger and better every year.
Much that has happened in the Scottish food fortnight underpins the Farmers Weekly local food is miles better campaign, on which it is to be congratulated. That campaign is resonating with the public. To allow constituents and other members of the public to demonstrate their support for the ethos behind the campaign, I slightly plagiarised its wording for a petition at the
Liberal Democrat stall at my local agricultural shows: New Deer, Turriff, Keith, Lourin fair, Rhynie gala and so on. There was much support and enthusiasm for the campaign and what it is trying to do.
There are many benefits to buying and eating fresh local produce. It is better for health, the economy and the environment. I will elaborate slightly on those points. On health, fresh food is generally high in nutritional value. It also tastes better, so people are more likely to be tempted to eat it. It is particularly important for the health of elderly people and people who are ill. We should also educate the taste buds of our young people. If they find out what good fresh food tastes like, they are more likely to choose it in preference to pre-prepared, bland offerings, which are not nearly so good for them. In the past fortnight—I cannot remember where—someone made the point that if we want to get people to eat fresh food and five daily portions of fruit and vegetables, saying that it is great, that it tastes good and that people will enjoy it is a better selling point than saying that it is good for them.
I turn to the economy. It is especially important to keep money circulating in the local economy in more fragile rural areas, where the viability of schools, shops and services can be very finely balanced. On the environment, I was slightly surprised to find out that food consumption makes up 20 per cent of our ecological footprint.
Local food is an all-round good thing, so what do we need to do about it? We must create markets and educate the consumer. People power works. If people want fresh food and start to demand it, they are more likely to get it. We want to get shares of existing markets. By persuasion, regulation or public demand, we want to get the supermarkets to set aside shelf space for local food. Public bodies feed a large number of people, so let us refine public procurement and make it easier for small businesses to engage. We should be a bit cleverer about specifications and allow more local autonomy.
Tourists and locals eat out—people come to Scotland for the food. Let us meet their expectations by giving them local food and identifying and explaining what they are eating. We must look at infrastructure. How can we do more to help small local producers to co-operate to get the synergies that will enable them to pool resources and share costs?
There is a great deal more that I could say. Other members will make those points. This is a good debate. There is a great deal of potential, which I hope we can harness.
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw members’ attention to the voluntary entry in my register of interests. That is relevant, because my neighbour, who keeps some sheep in my field, passes me some of the fruits of his labours. That food travels approximately 50m from the field to my plate, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
That is a model for the excellent work that John Scott kicked off very early doors in promoting Scottish farmers markets. Indeed, it is likely that I first met John Scott in person during the Ayr by-election—I was with our candidate, who was Jim Mather—at the farmers market, where John Scott worked with his late wife, who we miss. She was a charming lady.
In my constituency, there are many primary food producers who are required to interact with supermarkets. For example, white fish is landed at Peterhead, the biggest white-fish port in Europe, and pelagic fish is landed at Fraserburgh. It costs £700 for a lorry to take the fish down to the supermarkets’ distribution centres in the north of England, only for that fish to be returned to Tesco’s store in Fraserburgh. Yes, the fish is transported all the way down to the north of England and back again. That is quite absurd. That money could be invested in supporting quality local producers without in any sense putting a penny on the price of food on the plate.
My face lights up whenever my wife, in discussing the coming week’s food consumption, asks, “Would you like mince?” Mince is a staple of the Scottish diet.
Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): Mince is also a staple of this Parliament.
Stewart Stevenson: However, mince is under threat from European regulations, which will require that it be produced within a day of slaughter. I hope that the minister can do something about that.
I am gravely concerned about one aspect of the Tories’ attitude to this subject. I feel that they have been undermining the food producers. The loss of some 9 stone from the Tory benches is, if translated into steak, equivalent to approximately £1,000 in revenue that Mr Johnstone has taken out of local butchers.
Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con) rose—
Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time to give way to Mr Johnstone but, in all seriousness, I congratulate him on a spectacular achievement. I hope that he now eats locally produced vegetables, such as lettuce from Kettle Produce in Fife, to sustain his spectacular reduction.
However, the fillet steak was a bigger revenue earner for the local butcher, so you never know.
Eleanor Scott (Highlands and Islands) (Green): Given the shortness of time and the many things that I could say on the topic, I will have to cut my speech quite short. I join others in thanking John Scott for lodging the motion and congratulate him on securing the debate. I also congratulate everyone involved in the Scottish food fortnight, which was, as others have said, a great success.
As part of the Scottish food fortnight events in the Parliament, the other day I had the honour of chairing a seminar at which a paper was delivered by Michael Gibson. He is a man with many hats: he is a former board member of the Food Standards Agency; he is now chair of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation; and he is also a member of the Scottish food and health council. I want to quote extensively what he said about what Government can, and should, be doing.
He argued that we need a Government in which, instead of departments pulling apart and destroying the strategy through interdepartmental non-alignment, the dots are actually joined up. He said:
“Government has a key role to play. It is the only one that can set a food strategy that is truly cross-cutting, fulfilling the health agenda, the agricultural agenda and the consumer and food safety agenda”—
which is very true—
“…and it must be driven at the highest level”.
He also discussed supermarkets and the need to ensure that they discharge their corporate social responsibility. I and my party are—as members can imagine—no fans of supermarkets, but we recognise that, while they exist, we need to deal with them. Michael Gibson suggested that one way of dealing with the supermarkets is to require those with a floor area above a certain size to devote some space to local produce so that small local enterprises can get in. The supermarkets also need to devolve a lot more power to local managers to procure local food that can be sold in the local supermarket.
We also heard about hotels and restaurants and the need for local supply for local consumption. I know of a hotel in Wester Ross where the hotelier has to tell tourists—who have driven along a single-track road avoiding the sheep—that it is difficult for him to get local lamb. It is grown there, but the abattoir is dozens of miles away. There are real issues about joining these things up.
Nora Radcliffe mentioned something that I talked about at the seminar that we attended
about food, health and the Scottish diet action plan. We are going down the wrong route in talking about food as a vehicle for delivering health. Health is a side-effect of eating. We eat food because it is pleasurable and enjoyable. Food is not just fuel that contains a certain number of calories, nutrients, vitamins and whatever; it is a pleasure. One person at the seminar was from Italy. He contrasted the attitude to food that we have here with the attitude in Italy. The Italians do not make a big deal about eating healthily; they make a big deal about eating well.
If we rewrote the food message to say, “Eat local, fresh, seasonal food because it is a good eating experience,” people might eat a bit more butter or double cream than they perhaps should, according to guidelines, but overall they would eat a lot better than they do at the moment. The health message has failed. People have listened to the health message, have been confused and are eating all the wrong things. We need to send out a good food message and local food is the starting point for delivering that message.
Dr Jean Turner (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Ind): I congratulate John Scott. We all agree that
“local food is miles better”
in flavour and nutritional quality. I try to go to farmers markets when I can, but supermarkets are now getting in on the act—trying to increase their already great profits.
I agree with the point about milk. Many farmers in my constituency are in milk. They do not like the idea that they are not getting more for their litre and I agree with them. I would like to see not only Scottish food in schools and hospitals, but free milk back in the hospitals. I grew up on it; there is a meal in milk.
Supermarkets could put back something of what they take out in ripping up our roads and taking our money. They could employ nutritionists and cooks to educate people about how to cook. Over the decades during which I was in general practice, people lost the art of cooking. Even elderly people do not bother cooking because they have no energy—probably because they do not eat well. People go for the microwavable, high-fat, high-salt options. I have spoken to some supermarkets, but I have not seen much evidence that they have taken up the idea of forums for elderly people, young people or people who are on special diets, such as diabetics, to aid and abet our national health service. Everybody should be in there, trying to entice people’s palates. It is true that one must go to Europe to find people who love sitting around a table and eating good food.
Venison is also a passion of mine—I love it. It is very low in cholesterol, but many people have perhaps not tasted it. Farmed venison is very tasty—very mild. We used to have it on our menu at the University of Aberdeen, and I think that it would be nice to introduce it in schools. I know that the Deer Commission for Scotland is working on wild venison. I look forward to seeing what it will do for the tourist trade by making wild venison more palatable and easier to cook.
I would like the Executive to promote venison as a good quality meal. I would also like it to force supermarkets to get involved in teaching people about food preparation so that people can keep their money in their pockets. If ordinary people are bored of going around supermarkets, perhaps being able to go inside and listen to somebody telling them how to cook the produce that is on the shelves would give them a reason to go there. Other than that, I would like to see more farmers markets and more local food in our dining rooms.
Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Yesterday, along with the Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Ross Finnie, and others, I attended a tasting that was put on by Quality Meat Scotland. We tasted the meat from nine different lambs and a six-year-old mutton. It was all delicious. I grew up on a sheep farm and have eaten lamb and mutton all my life. I had never realised the subtle—and sometimes rather glaring—differences in flavour between meat from the same type of animal that has fed on different areas of heather or grass or a combination of the two. Farmers markets can illustrate and exploit differences in the flavour of local meats in the same way that whisky trails, for example, highlight different whiskies from different distilleries for whisky connoisseurs from all over the world.
Local food has a local taste and history that tourists find truly interesting. Many of Scotland’s tourists come from England or France. Given that the English eat twice as much lamb per head as the Scots—and the French probably twice as much again—farmers markets are the perfect vehicle for promoting that new kind of food tourism.
I also stress the importance of buying vegetables, especially organic ones, at farmers markets. They can be a dream to eat, and can be used to encourage young children to eat healthily. Indeed, my own young children, who used to hate vegetables, love going on sorties to farmers markets and carrying home healthy local produce that they have bought at enormous expense. They eat every morsel of it. I visit farmers markets in Oban and Cairndow in Argyll and, if I am in
Edinburgh at the weekend, I enjoy visiting the excellent market on Castle Terrace, which sells the most delicious venison pies that I have ever tasted.
I congratulate John Scott on securing this debate on an important motion and on all that he has done for farmers markets, which are, after all, important for farmers, fish farmers, fishermen, shellfish growers and, in particular, deer farmers. They are also important for tourism and health. Mr Finnie has often called for producers to add value in the food chain, and farmers markets play a major role in doing exactly that.
Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): I am delighted to support John Scott’s motion. I regularly meet local producers in the north, particularly at the monthly farmers market in Dingwall. I have also met members of the north-west Sutherland food link group, which is extending its work across the country, and I recently spoke to east Sutherland producers and many other groups at the Lairg crofters show. I am heartened by the number of people who want their produce: indeed, producers are having a problem keeping up with demand. The message of all these groups is that their food is high in freshness, low in food miles and tastes miles better.
The debate raises bigger questions that Scottish food fortnight prompts every time it is held: can we rely on the Scottish Government to make these food experiences available to the vast majority of Scots? Do the rural development programme and the much-discussed Scottish diet action plan join up? Do the Environment and Rural Development Committee’s report on the food chain and its evidence to the Competition Commission in Edinburgh last week show that the Scottish Executive has all the relevant powers, has joined up all the dots and has managed to link healthy food to agricultural production and this country’s food and drink industry?
I do not think so. Yesterday at the Parliament, Mike Gibson summed things up rather well in a talk called “The local food supply chain: the myth and the reality” when he said:
“It is imperative that Government strategy is not allowed to pull itself apart due to different departmental priorities; so as not to unravel it must be truly crosscutting.”
I was not aware of the Scottish Food and Health Council before this week—I am glad to hear about it—but I am aware of the Government’s sustainability directorate. What is this high-ranking body doing to pull these matters together? Is the commitment to healthy food at the heart of “A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture” or the Scottish rural development strategy? This debate
is important; after all, ingredients produced in Scotland can be much cheaper than the processed foods people buy in supermarkets.
We are lauding farmers markets and the like, but the Government is strangling small producers with the bureaucracy surrounding the interim bull hire scheme, which makes it more expensive for crofters to buy bulls and make locally produced beef available. How do we help crofters in that situation?
The Scottish organic action plan was supposed to meet at least 70 per cent by value of overall Scottish consumer demand for organic products with products sourced in Scotland. How does the claim that we support healthy food and willing food producers match the way the Government has handled the Scottish organic action plan? Immediate action is required to bring those essential aims together. Our celebration of the local food is miles better campaign deserves some detailed explanations of how the minister will achieve those aims.
Mr Andrew Arbuckle (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD): I thank John Scott for securing this evening’s debate, although I blame him for encouraging Stewart Stevenson, once again, to talk mince.
Eleanor Scott bemoans the lack of lamb in the Highlands and Islands. The answer might be to drive straight, rather than avoid the sheep on the road.
Jamie McGrigor and Jean Turner were right to eulogise the benefits of venison. Despite being a welfare-friendly environment, one of Scotland’s primary deer farms has twice been targeted by the Animal Liberation Front.
Years ago, I was invited to lunch by a neighbouring farmer. After the meal, he commented that the farm had produced all the food, from the leeks that went into the soup to the chicken that had been sacrificed to provide the main course. As a primary food producer, he was rightly proud of that achievement. He did not mention air miles, because that phrase was not then in currency.
Time has moved on. Because of increased specialisation in the farming industry, there are few who could now make such a claim. Equally, the loss of many processors and food packers in Scotland has led to produce being hauled to a central packaging and distribution point, only to be sent back up the road when it has been cut into small pieces and wrapped in cellophane. That system is used by the major retail chains, and I can give an extreme example of the travel involved in that side of the food industry.
Two years ago, Brussels sprouts grown in Scotland were transported to Poland for trimming before they came back to supermarket shelves in this country. That was made economically possible by the low wages in Poland, but as all members in the chamber will agree it was also economic madness. As we have heard tonight, we now see more and more exotic food on our shelves, and customers can buy vegetables, such as mangetout peas, that are flown in daily from places such as Kenya.
Those are some of the issues that we face in promoting the local food is miles better campaign. I congratulate Farmers Weekly on setting up the campaign and its Scottish correspondent, Carol McLaren, in particular. We need a change in attitude by the consumer, who is now used to being able to purchase almost any type of food from anywhere in the world. Watching potential buyers moving along supermarket aisles filling their baskets does not provide much in the way of hope for a radical change. I do not believe that adding an air miles tag to already hefty labelling is the solution.
Although they have carved out a space in the food market, farmers markets will not in themselves provide the whole answer. What is needed is a change in consumer attitudes, which will then be reflected in supermarket purchasing. There is, I fear, still a million miles to go before we dramatically reduce air, sea and road miles for food.
Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP): I congratulate John Scott on his personal contribution to establishing farmers markets. That is an accolade that he should be proud of. We have farmers markets in my constituency, and they are extremely welcome. The motion also mentions farm shops, which I think are becoming, if anything, even more significant than markets. There is a farm shop at Wester Hardmuir, between Nairn and Forres, which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who is willing to risk driving along that goat track called the A96.
Over the summer months, like other members, I had the pleasure of attending various games and shows, including the Grantown show, where I had the political misfortune to be asked to judge the tractor competition. It can be a vote-losing experience, and one is tempted to reject out of hand the entrants who live outwith the constituency. Naturally, I resisted that temptation.
One of the losers was a local wag. He asked me, after he found out my name and called me Fergie, “Why did your mother name you after a
tractor?” I have not passed those bon mots on to my mother—I do not have sufficient courage—but attending the show gave me the opportunity to pick up on some of the concerns, which is the point I am coming to. There are serious concerns, of which I think the minister is well aware.
There are concerns about charges made by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. I say to the minister that, with respect, SEPA is out of control. The sadly intemperate attack that the chief executive of that organisation made on NFU Scotland in the Press and Journal a week ago last Saturday was extremely unfortunate and ill-advised. In Scotland, there is a charge of £700 for a licence to put tar on farm roads, but there is no similar charge in England. That is outrageous—the charge must go.
There is also huge pressure on the dairy sector. Other members have referred to its problems. I inform the minister that those in the sector are on the edge, which is just not fair. One thing that we could do to help—my party has not yet adopted this policy—is to give every child in Scotland free school milk. We should not just pass the buck on that to local authorities, which was the Executive’s stated position in 2002 and again last week.
Farmers produce food. They may look after the environment, but they have done that anyway. Given the insecurity in the world, the biggest threat now in my view is food terrorism, which is a topic that is being increasingly discussed. What that means is that unless we can produce the food we need to feed ourselves, we may not have enough. One threat or actuality of botulism in the milk process could kill hundreds of thousands of people. People such as my sister-in-law would never enter a supermarket again or buy anything from one.
Unless we produce our own food—we must remember that that is farmers’ function—I think that we will regret the day. I am afraid that policies are moving away from recognising that primary purpose of farmers.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: To allow me to call the two remaining members who wish to speak, I invite a member to move a motion, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate.
That, under rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended until 6.01 pm—[Mr Mark Ruskell.]
Motion agreed to.
Mr Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green): I thank John Scott for securing this consensual debate.
I attended the first ever conference on food miles in the United Kingdom in 1993. It has taken 13 years for the issue to get on to the mainstream agenda. As other members said, we must congratulate the many different groups who did the work over the past 13 years, which we now welcome.
I want to talk a bit about food culture. I was honoured last week to launch the new restaurant and farm-shop extension at the Pillars of Hercules organic farm in Fife, which is a fantastic example of what a food culture should be about. Going there is a real live experience. Anyone who goes there just before Christmas will see turkeys being reared on the farm. If they go back and look at the fields in the summer, they will see that they are growing courgettes and other vegetables. Anyone who goes into the café will see that same produce being worked up into beautiful soups and salads. People also buy the produce, take it home and cook it up themselves. The Pillars of Hercules is live, educational, healthy and environmentally sound and, to pick up on Eleanor Scott’s point, it is an enjoyable experience for families, which is what we need to create in Scotland.
Contrast that with the supermarket culture. When we enter a supermarket as consumers, we lack knowledge about how the food has been produced and about the crucial relationships in the supply chain. I have spoken to many consumers about the dairy milk issue. Everyone to whom I speak is shocked when they realise that dairy farmers are paid less than the costs of production for milk. That in itself is another example of why we need a transparent food supply chain. Rob Gibson, Sarah Boyack and I made that point last week when we met the Competition Commission in Edinburgh as part of its grocery inquiry. I hope that the minister also raised that point when he gave evidence to that important inquiry last week.
The culture change is about farmers as well as about consumers. The farming community has taken tremendous strides to open up direct marketing, but farmers have historically regarded processors and retailers, not consumers, as their customers. We need to help farmers make a direct link with consumers.
Comments about a joined-up food strategy have been made. The most important thing the Government can do is join up the dots across different departments. Public procurement is vital. I would be delighted to take part in some of the work being done on that by the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on food, which John Scott has been leading.
Direct marketing is important, too, and we must support farmers to engage in such activity. I was extremely disappointed that although it would have been easy to include direct marketing as one of
the components of land management contracts, that option was rejected from the consultation. It would have been simple to introduce direct marketing as a way to encourage farmers to develop local food economies. Other countries are benefiting from moulding their common agricultural policy subsidies to support their food economies. The Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department must start to think outside the box to deliver healthy local food economies in Scotland. It is only by supporting farmers and consumers to come together that we can begin the recreation of Scotland’s food culture that is so desperately needed.
Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): I congratulate John Scott on securing the debate and express regret at the fact that no Labour members are present.
Maureen Watt was a bit rough on John Scott—I saw that he was upset—so I will be gentle with him. I know that he frequently meets my sister—who is worse than I am—down in Ayr when he is on his stall at the farmers market.
I am sorry that Alex Johnstone, who tells me that he is on the tomato diet, has left. Although he is eating lots of tomatoes, he is starving. I hope that they are the tomatoes from Clydesdale that Rosemary Byrne enjoyed at the farmers market stalls earlier this week. I thank her for mentioning the EatScotland event, which I hosted. Although she was unable to come, I know that she is fully committed to the scheme.
The Scottish Parliament has an opportunity to do more than just hold the Scottish food fortnight. Along with other members, through the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, I have been urging the members dining room to commit itself to serving Scottish produce and Scottish recipes. I know that there are issues to do with Sodexho and European procurement rules, but those rules can be met. Surely creative contracting could take place. I cannot believe that the French Parliament in Paris bothers its boot about buying produce from other nations. I bet it buys French produce and waits for someone to challenge it. If anyone challenged the Scottish Parliament about serving properly priced Scottish produce in the members dining room, for once the Scottish people would be on our side for successfully defying the regulations.
I have no idea how much time I have left because the speaking-time clock is not working. There is now a campaign to eat Peebles—not literally, of course. There is a wonderful lady called Val Brunton who runs the Sunflower Restaurant there. Everything she uses is local—the bread is
baked locally, the meat comes from the local butcher’s and the fish and vegetables are local, too. I do not have shares in the restaurant, but the food is wonderful. A group of traders in Peebles are getting together to have the town put on a food trail, to promote its many independent shops and the good food that is available there.
I could not agree more that food miles are a waste. Who on earth wants to eat strawberries in January? There are children in Scotland who think that strawberries grow in January and who have no idea how much it costs to bring them over here. Let us eat Scottish strawberries and Scottish raspberries at the right time of year. In the winter, we can have turnips along with our haggis.
The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): I congratulate John Scott on instigating the debate, the timing of which is extremely apposite, given that we are in the middle of Scottish food fortnight.
I was at the launch of Scottish food fortnight in Glamis. The most testing question that I received came from a highly advanced primary 7 pupil at Glamis primary school, whose interrogation on what the Scottish Parliament meant by “local” would have had quite a few members vexed about the precise definition. His definition went way beyond that of a concentric circle around Glamis. He was keen to know what local meant in other towns, cities and countries. We had an earnest conversation.
John Scott is right that the issue of local food and produce has risen right up the agenda. It is important to observe that the entire drive to reconnect the consumer and the primary producer came from some consumers and some primary producers. Therefore, Government is not necessarily required to intervene to make the change to our culture and our approach to food that members referred to in the debate.
Stewart Stevenson: Will the minister give way?
Ross Finnie: I want to make a start.
There are issues for Government, which I will come to, but we make a great mistake in not understanding that we have largely driven the way in which our food culture has been allowed to develop. We have fallen into the trap of assuming that what is superficially cheaper is better. The rise of localism—of farmers markets and local markets—points up the folly of that perception. I entirely agree with John Scott about the East Ayrshire experiment and the whole issue of food co-operatives, co-operation at the local level, local food production, healthy living, the environment and the economy.
I hope that Maureen Watt will accept that her colleagues Stewart Stevenson, Fergus Ewing and Christine Grahame were correct in chiding her for her contribution. In any debate, members are entitled to take different policy positions, but it was a little ungracious of her to make a personal attack on John Scott, who was one of the founders of Scottish farmers markets. Indeed, John Scott’s formation of that movement long predated Maureen Watt’s motion to the Parliament. However, I think that all of us agree that Maureen Watt’s colleagues more than made up for her infelicitous beginning.
Stewart Stevenson: Is the minister minded to take account of the Welsh Assembly Government’s stated procurement policy of giving an advantage to local producers in respect of the time constraints that are involved in harvesting local food produce? That is within European Union rules.
Ross Finnie: As the member knows, we have made further amendments to the regulations on local food specifications, particularly in relation to seasonality. I say that with particular reference to the East Ayrshire experiment, which John Scott mentioned in his opening remarks and to which Rosemary Byrne and other members referred.
In moving forward, we have many issues to tackle. Nora Radcliffe addressed fresh food and Fergus Ewing raised farmers shops, which take the initiative further forward and give a degree of permanence.
Stewart Stevenson pointed out that we are talking not only about farmers but about those who harvest the seed. Indeed, the pelagic and demersal fisheries have an equally important role to play in all of this. Eleanor Scott spoke of the different ways in which we should go about things and outlined her different approach. I say to her and other members that we must be careful in what we say.
On the supermarkets, I say to Mark Ruskell that, when I gave evidence to the Competition Commission, I made clear our belief in the need for transparency throughout the food chain, in particular in relation to the milk industry, as many members mentioned. We are talking not only about the supermarket and the farmer but about the processors in the middle. One needs only to consider the history of margins in the milk industry to see that serious questions need to be asked not only of the supermarkets but of them. That said, supermarkets need to consider transparency and their dominant position in our society, although we should not forget that we, as consumers, have fuelled the huge growth of the supermarkets.
I say to Rob Gibson that, of course, ministers can give a great deal of leadership and direction
and can intervene, but the issue is not all about Government; there is a huge free market in food. It is quite nonsensical of him to suggest that Government can solve all the problems. We can give direction to consumers and talk about education, and Jean Turner made valid points about many people’s ignorance of cooking. I agree with her that it is probably a fact that few people under the age of 50 know how to cook a shoulder of lamb. The situation is difficult.
Jamie McGrigor mentioned lamb and managed to make an entire speech without once mentioning nephrops, which was quite remarkable, although I now feel a need to say, “Shush, don’t tell anybody,” or the Official Report will need to be adjusted to record at least one mention. As Jamie McGrigor rightly said, other organisations come into play.
I do not think that SEPA made it into The Press and Journal in the way that Fergus Ewing described it. It gave a general press briefing; the matter was handled slightly differently in other newspapers. However, the sort of issue that he described is not helpful.
I have mentioned the dairy sector. I agree with Mark Ruskell that this is a matter of culture—he put his finger on it. However, the issues are broader than those he raised. Government, consumers and education are all involved—it involves all of us.
I will not dwell too long on Christine Grahame’s creative contracting, as I might get into trouble. I am sure that it is an interesting legal concept. No doubt she and Fergus Ewing will talk about it later.
Tonight’s debate has highlighted an extraordinarily important area: the renaissance of the connection—at the moment, it is a disconnection—between the consumer and the primary producer. As a Government, we have been spending an increasing amount of time considering what Mark Ruskell referred to as the transparency of the food chain, as well as the relationships within the food chain. I believe that, as the substance of the motion suggests, we can place great importance on individual citizens understanding what it means to have better, not cheaper food, where that food can be sourced locally and about the seasonality of local produce. Let us be careful though. We should not say that everything must happen at home. After all, that would make the messages that I give out when promoting Scotch beef abroad sound a little hollow.
Meeting closed at 18:01.