Covid brought food prove­nance to fore

The Scotsman - - WEATHERT | FARMING - Brian Hen­der­son bhen­der­son@farm­ing.co.uk

“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.”

0 Gro­cery stores were stripped bare as cus­tomer pan­icked

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