04 May 2005

S2M-2726 Supporting Local Producers

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 4 May 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

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Supporting Local Producers

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2726, in the name of Shiona Baird, on supporting local producers. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the launch of the new farmers' market at Stonehaven as a welcome addition to the many thriving markets in the north east of Scotland; acknowledges the continuing popularity and growth of farmers' markets, "box" schemes and community-supported agriculture initiatives across the whole of Scotland; recognises that many consumers are becoming increasingly selective about what they eat and are now consciously rejecting mass-produced, remotely-sourced food in favour of fresh seasonal produce that is grown or reared locally; congratulates local farmers and producers for establishing a range of enterprising initiatives to respond to growing consumer demand for such produce in their areas, and considers that shoppers should actively support Stonehaven's initiative and other examples of sustainable local enterprise which benefit the local producer, the local consumer and the local economy.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw the attention of members to the entry in my register of interests: I have a three-acre field. I do not farm the field but my neighbour keeps Soay and Suffolk sheep in it. I have never operated a stall at a farmers market so, unfortunately, I break the sequence set by previous members. However, I am an avid supporter of farmers markets.

Last Saturday I was at the farmers market that operates in Macduff fish market. I had a particular purpose in mind: I felt a cold coming on and I wanted to buy honey to address it. I found the honey and my cold is now in remission. Many of the products that have a direct link with nature provide a natural remedy for life's ills.

Andrew Arbuckle said that we must be cautious when considering this subject and I agree with him in some respects. The motion appears to reject mass production, but I do not go as far as that. On the contrary, we can have excellent-quality mass producers of food in our country and excellent-quality food produced en masse. We can also have small producers who produce poor-quality food. Scale is an issue and it is easier to manage small enterprises, but we should not be captivated by the idea that scale is the essence of the matter.

Mark Ballard (Lothians) (Green): Does not Stewart Stevenson recognise that the motion notes that it is consumers who choose to reject mass-produced food? If consumers want to reject it and choose locally produced food, surely they should be encouraged to buy locally produced food that comes from Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: I certainly accept that point and acknowledge what the member says. However, implicit in some of what has been said so far is the idea that big equals bad and small equals good. If only it were so simple, we could run the world.

Farmers markets are efficient in shortening the supply chain and that is excellent. However, we should not imagine that that leads to CO2 efficiencies, as the contrary happens: we transport small amounts of food using relatively large amounts of fuel. Therefore, the case is uncertain and we need to consider the matter further.

It is possible for large producers to have excellent ways of indicating the provenance of food. For every piece of its chicken in a supermarket, Grampian Country Foods can tell people where the particular piece of meat came from as far back as two generations of chicken. Good systems can operate well in large companies when they choose to use them.

When I go to John Stewart's in Banff to buy my meat, he tells me which field it came from, which farmer it came from and sometimes, just to tease me, the name of the beast that I am about to eat.

This is a new era for the food industry, but farmers markets are, in essence, a niche industry and will remain as such, not least because, unfortunately, we have a huge hill to climb if we are to persuade the majority of consumers to go elsewhere than supermarkets.

Some supermarkets do relatively well. Some of my local producers have had excellent experiences with Asda since it opened its store in Peterhead and there is a range of local products—

John Scott: Notwithstanding Stewart Stevenson's remarks about farmers markets being a niche organisation, I presume that he is not against their expansion.

Stewart Stevenson: Good heavens, no. I am absolutely in favour of their expansion, but I am not sure that I can yet see the day when everyday staples are bought at a local farmers market every day. Many of the markets are held once a month, fewer are held once a week and I do not think that any of them are held every day. Shops are supplied directly by producers and I give my support to such shops wherever possible, but access to good value veg, bread and meat every day is a little way off.

We should give financial support where appropriate. Farmers markets have the advantage of not having shop premises, so the business rates burden is rather less, but they make a valuable and key contribution to building enterprise in the countryside. Such enterprises are a key way of building new jobs and the answer is one at a time.

I congratulate Shiona Baird on lodging the motion for debate.


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