Covid brought food provenance to fore
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us/tae see o or - sels as ithers see us!”
The lines from Burns’ ‘To a Lou se’ have become a familiar trope in the farming world – and they tend to be used to highlight just how the view of modern agriculture which is held by the rest of the population differs from our own.
And when it appears in the comment columns it’s usually spelling out the fact that we do a pretty poor job of explaining the benefits of our high production standards to there st of humanity.
But recently I’ve noticed a slight shift in the sand on this one – and it would appear that there’s a bit of a belief floating about that the pandemic crisis and ongoing trade negotiations have somehow helped to en gender a bit more understanding of the farming sector amongst the general public.
Both NFU Scotland and Quality Meat Scotland certainly came to that conclusion in recent weeks. In an upbeat blog on the union’s website, vice-president Martin Kennedy claimed there had been a massive change in people’s understanding and recognition of where their food came from during lockdown.
“This is very evident when speaking to local butchers who have been run off their feet supplying our consumers with high quality home-grown produce,” he stated.
And he was probably right in thinking that this increased demand for what he termed“our excellent, sustainable homeproduced meat” had led to a well overdue increase in the farm gate price– although it could also be argued that after bouncing along the floor for so long, prices could only move upwards.
“From an arable perspective, the same should apply, whether it is malting barley or soft fruit and veg, we should be following a strategy of Scottish first, If there is not enough supply to fill the demand then by all means use product from the rest of the UK and only revert to imports if it is simply not here or cannot be grown here,” he continued.
While few farmers would disagree with such sentiments, I can’t help but feel that extrapolating the scenario into other sectors has to be viewed more as bit of an aspirational goal rather than an evidence-based conclusion.
It’s true that panic buying and empty supermarket shelves at the start of lockdown probably did raise awareness of where food comes from – and of just how important food security is to the nation’s health and wellbeing.
Of course this involves not just having enough but also using the best production standards covering animal welfare the envi - ron men ta nd food safety standards.
In the same week, QMS was asking how the industry could ensure that the three national brands– Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Specially Selected Pork – could secure their place at the top of the nation’s shopping list as consumers resumed more “nor - mal” buying habits
Once again the answer was to“leverage” the relationships built during the pandemic which had shown a revived appreciation of where food comes from and cement this into “normal” buying habits.
And surveys had shown that there was a will out there to continue buying local as much as possible – which was good news as Brexit and other international trade deals raised concerns about maintaining food standards.
“If our primary producers have to compete with cheaper imports from other countries, the USP of meat produced in the UK is its welfare standards – and assurance schemes may become more important than ever,” said QMS.
But while “knocking copy” is often fr owned upon, a report produced by the Save British Farming organisation last week didn’ t mince its words when warning of the possible harmful effects of an illconsidered trade deal with the US which undercuts UK farming standards.
Pointing out that the incidence of food poisoning alone was ten times higher in the US, they warned that more than just economic gain should be considered before accepting the US’S industrialised food and farming practices.
Their warning of high antibiotic use, and the country’ s record of high consumption of ultra-processed foods with questionable additives, meant that accepting these as the price of a trade deal would put the UK population at greater danger of developing life-limiting diseases.
They said that the UK government should accept amendments to the Agriculture and Trade Bills to ensure the country’ s current high food, animal welfare and environmental standards were enshrined in law.
And their message was stark: “Our nation’s health depends on it.”