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13 January 2005

S2M-2209 Sustaining Agriculture

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 13 January 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

… … …

Sustaining Agriculture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2209, in the name of Jamie Stone, on sustaining agriculture and sustaining communities. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons. It will not be possible to extend the debate, and I will take a view on speaking times when I have seen the number of requests to speak.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament believes that sustaining a viable agricultural sector involves encouraging an increase in employment on Scotland's land and that this would strengthen the contribution of agriculture to the viability of rural communities and contribute to the nutritional health of Scotland.

17:06

… … …

17:14

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Quite the most alarming thing that I have heard this evening is that Jamie Stone eats Pot Noodles. Nevertheless, I congratulate him on creating this opportunity to debate an important subject.

The importance of the subject was illustrated perfectly at the Cancer Research UK reception last night, because one of the five strands of reducing the incidence of cancer is addressing the issue of diet. The matter may be of particular importance to me because, after researching my family tree, I know that five of my 16 great—or is that great-great?—grandparents died from cancer of the intestine in one form or other. I hope that my genetic inheritance can be offset by some good Scottish scoff, to use Jamie Stone's word.

The subject is important, particularly in my constituency, which is very big in food production. For example, Macrae Foods Ltd, Fisher Foods Ltd, Grampian Country Chickens Ltd and International Fish Canners (Scotland) Ltd are all major employers in Banff and Buchan. The predominance of high-quality food processors reflects the importance of agriculture and fishing not just in my constituency but throughout Scotland. Indeed, about 70,000 people are employed in producing this healthy scoff for the country and perhaps one in 10 Scottish jobs is related to food production.

Of course, supermarkets fight against the drive for quality in Scotland's production industries. We should note that UK supermarkets' margin of profit is about four times greater than that in any other comparable country; in fact, it is more than four times greater than US supermarkets' margin of profit. The supermarkets' control of the market is very subtle; it is driven not by health and healthy eating, but by margin and price. Their manipulations are certainly well documented. For example, they use known-value items—the few items on the shelf for which the general public have an idea of price—to create the impression that things are cheap.

I go to my local butcher, who sells organic beef that is locally grown, slaughtered and hung in the chill store at a lower price than I would pay at Tesco down the road. If more of our communities were to consider the matter, they would discover that option for themselves. I listened with interest to the 20-minute speech that the chief executive of Tesco plc made at the Scottish Agricultural College's centenary dinner, and noted that he did not once use the word "quality". That says a lot about the constraints on the way in which supermarkets deal with food and quality.

I hope that John Scott will speak tonight, because he is a great supporter of farmers markets. I encourage his efforts in that regard and very much support that quality method of delivering affordable local food.

17:18

Stewart Stevenson
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