12 March 2013

S4M-05892 Food Policy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05892, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on Scottish Government food policy.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

As RenĂ© Descartes said in 1637, “Cogito ergo sum”—“I think, therefore I am.” Perhaps the motto for this debate and for Scotland should be, “I eat, therefore I am.” Like all of us in the chamber, I am what I eat. When I was a youngster, what I ate was very different from what I eat now. Much of it was gathered in at our own hands. We foraged for wild raspberries, wild strawberries, brambles, blaeberries, crab apples, sloes and rosehips. We gathered nettles, dandelions, wild garlic and mushrooms. We hunted for and ate—

Neil Findlay: Since the member was that busy, when did he have time to invent the computer?

Stewart Stevenson: The computer was necessary, of course, to manage the complexity of life in a foraging environment.

We hunted for and ate rabbits, pigeons, crows and the occasional hare. We were given bits of venison—roe deer, largely—and pheasants. We had trout—the sea trout all being caught below the high tide mark, of course. We grew apples, plums, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, onions, potatoes, carrots, cauliflowers, cabbage, lettuce and beetroot. My father was a country doctor and, very fortunately, barely a day would go by without his returning with a brown paper bag full of eggs, a pat of butter, a tub of crowdie or some home-made cheese. The link between supplier and consumer was extremely short for us in our family.

There was virtually no sugar in our diet, as it was rationed until I was six years old—even though in Cupar, where I was brought up, there was a huge British Sugar Corporation factory, which turned sugar beet into sugar.

Other members have used their speaking time to talk about local opportunities and I will do much the same. In my constituency, the Rockfish cafe in Whitehills gets its fish from its own trawler—none of that Faroese or Icelandic stuff, although the trawler may have been up that way to get some of the fish. We also have one of the great adaptations of Scottish cuisine: the Scotch pie, filled not with meat but with Cullen skink, which one can get from Downie’s, priced £1.60. When my wife says, “I’m going to Johnnie’s. What do you want?”, she is not going to John Stewart Quality Butcher; she is going to a friend called Johnnie, who happens to be the butcher. He will tell us the field that the beef came from and the name of the farmer who provided it. He has cut the supply chain; he has cut out lots of the people in the middle who take money out of what is going on. We have taken Nigel Don’s advice and gone to the farmers market in Macduff, which is held once a month in the old covered fishing market.

I do not despise television chefs as much as some. It was Delia Smith who, rather than concentrating on presentation on telly, actually showed us how to cook things. To this day, I use her recipe for cooking rice—be it cheap rice or expensive rice, it works.

Food is a matter of debate. Why are we at such a pass with the source of some of our processed meat? There are many and complex reasons for that. One of the ways of looking at errors in systems that the American Federal Aviation Administration uses has nine headings for failures. I would like briefly to highlight two of them: one is inadequate leadership, and the other is lack of assertiveness. The FAA found that most of the mechanical causes of air crashes have been eliminated. Planes were getting much more reliable and what was left was two human beings at the front of the plane causing an increasing proportion of the accidents: a greybeard captain with 20,000 or 30,000 flying hours behind him, and a junior officer beside him. The junior officer was more recently trained and better able to fly the plane but was unable to challenge the old greybeard. A system of cockpit resource management was introduced, which provided a better balance.

One of the things that we are missing in our food industry line in particular is a reliance on the people who are at the front. Jim Mather, the former minister, gave a presentation in 2005 at which one of the quotes that he used—which I think he took from Seddon—was:

“Make the worker the inspector.”

The person on the front line knows what is going on, and it is important that they do.

The Food Standards Agency’s original goal, which was to minimise risk to public health, should be turned into a more collaborative, positive goal: work with the food industry to increase progressively the volume and value of safe, healthy, nutritious food to improve public health and wellbeing. We must move away from imagining that simply inspecting a process to death will lead to the outcomes that we need. Yes, we need the inspection—of course we do—but we should ensure that those who understand the objectives are equipped to contribute to them and that the people who are working in the industry at every level know why their industry is there. The people on the front line are the people who understand what is going on and can really contribute to improving the industry.

It is certainly the case that if we can shorten the chain we will cut the cost and improve the product.

I end by quoting Rumpole of the Bailey, because today is about quotes: “If you want the recipe for steak pie, don’t ask a vegetarian.” Let us get the people on the front line to be the people who actually improve our industry.


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