Poultry and Egg Products

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Environment and Rural Development – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 27th April 2006.

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Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 2:15 pm, 27th April 2006

To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has for discussions with supermarkets and other major retailers in respect of the sales of poultry and egg products. (S2O-9614)

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The Scottish Executive has regular discussions with retailers on a wide range of issues. The Scottish Retail Consortium has been represented at stakeholder meetings set up in response to the discovery of H5N1 high pathogenic avian influenza in Scotland and has played a constructive role in discussions with the Executive and other stakeholders.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

Does the minister agree that it is high time that supermarkets made a genuine effort to support local primary producers during market fluctuations, particularly by sharing additional costs instead of simply passing them on? Furthermore, will he comment on recent statements that appeared to cast doubt on the quality of Scottish food?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I assume that the member's latter question refers to certain very unfortunate statements made by the Waitrose organisation that might have suggested that it was safe to purchase products from its stores because it did not source anything from Scotland. I should say for the Parliament's benefit that Waitrose has recognised that the statement was loosely worded and has publicly apologised for it. It has also apologised to the president of the National Farmers Union Scotland and my own office for any offence that it might have given.

In that spirit, I should also tell the chamber that, when I met the chairman of Tesco privately last Friday, I pointed out that if general market conditions that are dictated by exceptional events such as an outbreak of avian influenza are depressing world market prices, supermarkets should have regard to our local suppliers' absolute need to survive by not exacerbating such difficult situations through their trading terms and conditions.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On the minister's point about the responsibility on supermarkets not to depress the market in this country during, for example, an outbreak of avian influenza, does he share my concern at the news that a number of supermarkets purchased poultry products from European countries with a greater incidence of avian influenza simply because the price was low and, by doing so, displaced products from suppliers in our country? Will the minister pursue that concern with certain supermarkets to ensure that they protect the long-term viability of domestic markets instead of trying to make a quick buck out of a difficult situation?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I largely agree with Mr Swinney. Indeed, I have pursued—and am pursuing—that very issue with the Scottish Retail Consortium and two supermarkets. Since the outbreak of avian influenza in the far east, there has been a very substantial reduction in the consumption of these products. For example, in Italy, there has been a 20 or 30 per cent reduction, although worldwide the reduction has been about 8 to 12 per cent. Of course, such a natural economic fluctuation has led to a worldwide price reduction of roughly the same amount. As I have already told a number of organisations, it is in no one's long-term interest for any organisation in this country to exploit such a position, and I plan to pursue the matter through the Scottish Retail Consortium.