22 March 2002

Surveys to find out what the public really wants

By Shelley Wright

Scotland correspondent

PLANS to establish exactly what the public wants from Scotlands farmers were unveiled last week at NFU Scotlands annual conference in St Andrews.

In the keynote address, rural development minister, Ross Finnie, said: "The Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture, which I launched last year, highlighted the need for a farming industry focused on being responsive to consumer needs."

As a result, the Scottish Executive will provide £250,000 to fund a series of surveys in the coming months to establish the publics attitude and expectations when it comes to farmers and the environment, he said.

Earlier in the conference, union president, Jim Walker, told delegates that public perception was now the biggest challenge facing the farming industry.

"Why does it matter?" he asked. "Well, the public are the customers for our food and for the environment we provide. They fund us directly by buying food, and indirectly through taxes, which provide our support payments."

And, because the government was founded "entirely on spin", public opinion became even more critical, Mr Walker said. "Tony Blair is looking forward all the time to see how the public will react. So it is absolutely critical to have the public on our side if we are to have any hope of taxpayer support in future years."

An example of how the industry had to meet public demands was evident in recent weeks with the publicity over the controversial 90-day "Scotch beef" rule.

"If the public believes that "Scotch" means born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland then that is what we must provide," Mr Walker said.

Quality Meat Scotland, the red meat promotion body, has now indicated that it intends to drop the clause allowing cattle from other countries to be sold under the "Scotch" label as long as they have been in Scotland for at least 90 days before slaughter. &#42