Local Food

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:04 pm on 21st June 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:04 pm, 21st June 2007

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-28, in the name of Jim Hume, on local food. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the benefit to our health, the environment and Scotland's farmers, fishermen and rural areas of choosing more local, fresh, seasonal produce; believes that by specifying requirements for freshness, delivery frequency, specific varieties and production standards the public sector can take a lead in the promotion of local food; notes the success of the East Ayrshire school meals pilot in showing how procurement rules can promote locally grown food and support Scotland's local suppliers; considers that the school meals pilot should be rolled-out across Scotland, and recognises the importance of action across the public sector to encourage the procurement of more locally grown produce.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 5:16 pm, 21st June 2007

I am delighted to talk about procurement in the public sector of locally grown, fresh and seasonal produce in my and the Liberal Democrats' first members' business debate of the session. I am sure that we will have a valuable discussion.

Local food procurement for public agencies can help with three contemporary issues—health, wealth and our mother earth. On health, Scotland is seen as the sick man of Europe, which is ironic given the quality of the produce on our doorstep, for which we are famous. Surely we have a great opportunity to improve that image and create a new culture of healthy and nutritionally aware youngsters who are excited by food, so starting in our schools is most appropriate.

Food that is procured locally needs fewer preservatives and retains its nutritional value better, because of shorter supply chains. If food is locally grown, children understand better how their food appears. That is why I want what is happening in East Ayrshire and the project with Tayside schools to be rolled out throughout Scotland. More than that, I want the whole public sector to follow that example.

As for wealth, using local produce has economic benefits. A new guide to public procurement from the New Economics Foundation shows how local authorities and other public bodies can use their purchasing power to promote local economic development. The report concluded that providing high-quality, competitively priced food in schools, hospitals and local authority facilities is possible. Local suppliers can deliver food that is cheaper and healthier and can help the public sector to find ways to deliver additional food items and possibly even to save public money. Of course, that cannot be achieved overnight. Public tenders must address the fact that local food supply chains will have to start from scratch in some areas, but anything is possible, if the will exists.

As for our mother earth, we all talk about climate change daily. The Parliament held two debates on the subject last week; I participated in both. Sourcing food thousands of miles away cannot be good for our environment, never mind the sometimes questionable traceability and animal welfare issues. The Stern report of 2006 said:

"What we do now can have only a limited effect on the climate over the next 40 or 50 years" but

"what we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century".

Encouraging the public sector to use local produce is one measure in the fight against climate change, which we discussed this afternoon.

Local food is not just an agenda item for rural communities. In our urban green spaces, we still have a strong community of allotment growers. Societies such as the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society are in a prime position to provide niche products in the new food supply chains that will be required, which will save green spaces in our cities.

Relevant examples are spread randomly all over the United Kingdom already. The headteacher of Whalsay high in Shetland recently spoke passionately about his school's rural skills course and about efforts to provide seasonal and healthy school meals by using fresh local produce. The school enlists the help of a local crofter to teach and give practical work experience while children participate in the rural skills course. They learn about where their food comes from and how it is grown and looked after, and they learn about animal husbandry. An additional benefit of the course is that many of the children say that they want to go into the agriculture industry when they leave school—an excellent example of sustainability at work.

In East Ayrshire, the school meals pilot project has worked well. There has been no additional cost to the local authority and £160,000 has been generated for the local economy. Parents have become engaged and the catering staff are now enjoying working with proper, fresh and seasonal produce. The East Ayrshire pilot project has proved sustainable and is seen as a model for best practice.

The what's on your plate? campaign of the National Farmers Union Scotland, which was launched last week, highlights the importance of understanding food sourcing. I am sure that Mr Lochhead heard all about the campaign today, during his visit to the Royal Highland show. In addition, Northumberland County Council's project resulted in roughly £1.5 million being invested back into the local economy. I could go on citing such examples.

Often, the barrier is seen as procurement rules—free-market philosophy versus sustainability; however, that need not be the case. In fact, article 26 of the public sector directive states:

"Contracting authorities may lay down special conditions relating to the performance of a contract ... The conditions governing the performance of a contract may, in particular, concern social and environmental considerations."

France, Italy and parts of Scandinavia already have successful purchasing systems that push the competitive balance in favour of small, local producers. Their mechanisms to promote local purchasing are all similar to the East Ayrshire project and concentrate on freshness, by enhancing the local aspect as a quality factor; seasonality, demanding domestic varieties—perhaps a threat to having strawberries for the Christmas school dinner; organic production, which automatically favours local producers as the organic industry is far more fragmented than the conventional industry; and contracts that can be broken down into small lots, thereby allowing small producers to bid for parts of contracts.

The benefits of local food produce are clear to see: it is not rocket science. Public procurement is a powerful tool in ensuring sustainability. I sincerely hope that the Parliament and the Executive can work in conjunction with the public sector in achieving more locally produced food in our public services. It has been said that local procurement is the litmus test of the public sector's commitment to sustainable development. It is also the litmus test of the Executive's commitment to the health, economy and sustainable development of our great nation. I look to the minister and cabinet secretary for assurances that every effort will be made to engage with the public sector on the issue and that the Executive will deliver on this cross-party manifesto promise for our health, wealth and mother earth.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 5:23 pm, 21st June 2007

I congratulate Jim Hume on his contribution and recognise other members who have taken part in such debates before, including John Scott and Alex Johnstone—who would be here if he was not at the end of a tug-of-war rope. I also mention that Sarah Boyack, John Scott, Jim Hume and I will be the four cross-party MSPs engaged in Scottish food fortnight.

The debate has been going on for quite a while in the Parliament. I am glad that Jim Hume has focused on public procurement, which is an issue that I have raised several times. There is guidance issued by the Executive although, unfortunately, it is lumped in with freedom of information guidance for local authorities. The most up-to-date guidance is from December 2004. During the passage of the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill, the issue was raised with the minister and his answer was that

"the bill will give schools and local authorities an opportunity to develop a school meals service through which pupils become educated consumers who understand health, environmental and wider issues."—[Official Report, Communities Committee, 6 December 2006; c 4421.]

He continued:

"We intend to reissue the guidance when the eventual act is commenced, to remind local authorities of what we are saying to them."

Now that we have new ministers in place, that guidance must be revisited and extracted from the freedom of information guidance. It must be issued as guidance in its own right, but I do not think that that has been initiated.

In 2006, the Environment and Rural Development Committee did a report on its inquiry into the food supply chain, which dealt with public procurement; I defer to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, who probably knows much more about the subject than I do. I do not like some of the soundbites in the report. For example, the use of the phrase "value for money" suggests that only the bare costs should be considered. Although importing something from France might make it cheaper to buy, that could have wider costs to the community, such as the loss of local jobs. As I have said before, it is possible to engage in creative contracting. Those are not a lawyer's weasel words—it can be built into a contract that there must be local sustainability. By including conditions to do with the sustainability of small communities, local authorities and other public bodies can avoid breaching European Union competition rules. I hope that we get a move on with that work because it has been due for a long time.

A separate issue is supermarkets and consumers. We have battered the supermarkets about procurement for a long time, not just because they buy in bulk and do not often buy locally, but because they determine what we grow and, now, the breeds of animals that we keep. I went to an extremely interesting presentation on the food chain by Michael Greger MD, who is director of public health and animal agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States. He explained that the fact that we are putting flocks of hundreds of thousands of birds into sheds where viruses multiply means that we are likely to have bird flu pandemics. Such practices are engaged in at the behest of the supermarkets and, indirectly, the consumer.

I realise that I have introduced an issue that is separate from procurement, but it is essential that we tackle it. I ask the ministers to examine the intensive breeding of animals to produce cheap food. We must get away from the idea that cheap is best. Our food may be as cheap as chickens, but it may cost us a flu pandemic.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour 5:27 pm, 21st June 2007

It is some time since I have had the opportunity to participate in a members' business debate, so I am delighted that Jim Hume has chosen such a valuable topic and one that is both close to my heart and relevant to my home territory.

There is no doubt that sustainable development is one of the big challenges that we face. One way of tackling the issue is to develop awareness of food and health choices among the young people in our schools and to link that to our concerns about environmental stewardship.

There have been some rather unfair caricatures of me as someone who favours certain supermarkets, which will remain nameless. However, I am more likely to be found with a bag of organic vegetables grown in my constituency, as John Scott will probably confirm. As the Parliament's resident vegan, I was delighted to go to a primary school in East Ayrshire and to be able to choose a healthy and nutritious meal from a standard menu without having to tell people in advance what I could and could not eat. I would certainly not have been able to do that many years ago, when I was at school in the area.

The project in East Ayrshire, whereby the work that has been done through the Executive's hungry for success initiative and the introduction of a whole-school approach to school meals has been linked to the wider community plan, has been award winning. We in the Labour Party recognised the importance of that project by including in our manifesto a firm commitment to develop the work that East Ayrshire Council had begun. I must pay tribute to the former councillor and convener of the education committee, Tommy Farrell, and Robin Gourlay, who works for the authority, for their efforts to progress the scheme.

Local sourcing of food has been important to the East Ayrshire project and the council has worked closely with the Soil Association. In primary schools in the area, there has been an increase of 4 per cent in the uptake of school meals by young people, which I believe is better than the national trend. The council has also made it clear that school food should not necessarily equate to inferior or cheap food.

Twenty-six schools throughout East Ayrshire have purchased all their fresh produce from within a radius of about 30 miles of Kilmarnock. That includes fresh meat from Afton Glen farm in New Cumnock, in my constituency, artisan cheese from Dunlop dairy in Stewarton, in the next-door constituency, and milk from Clyde Organics in Lanark, as well as free-range eggs, locally grown vegetables and fruit, and fresh fish. The way in which the food is presented in schools gives young people new opportunities to try out different foods, to taste things that they may not have had before and to encourage their parents to make local purchases.

More can be done in the public sector; I had a particular interest in the food that was provided in our prison system. I hope that the new Executive will see that there are opportunities to ensure that we use local produce and provide in our other public sector organisations the same range of nutritious food that we provide in our schools. Perhaps the minister will reflect on that issue with those of his colleagues who have responsibility for justice.

I congratulate the member and hope that when summing up the minister will give a commitment to support local authorities such as East Ayrshire in continuing this valuable work.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 5:31 pm, 21st June 2007

I begin by declaring an interest in the debate, as a farmer, as a stallholder at the Ayrshire farmers market, as the chairman of that co-operative group and as a past chairman of the Scottish Association of Farmers Markets. I congratulate Jim Hume on lodging his first motion for a members' business debate in the Parliament on local food and, like Christine Grahame, welcome him to the growing band of parliamentarians who are enthusiastic about the concept. I also welcome Cathy Jamieson's new-found enthusiasm for the issue.

It is entirely appropriate that the debate is happening today, on the first day of the Royal Highland show. Having seen the minister at breakfast and at lunch, I am glad to see him here this evening, too. I welcome the good turnout of other members at the show and their interest in this debate.

This motion, and similar motions in the past, catches the growing public mood in favour of buying local, eating local. Nowhere is that mood more prevalent than in the food hall of the Royal Highland show, which both the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment and I visited today. A sense of enthusiasm and awakening for the potential of local food production, local processing and local consumption is in the air—one can almost reach out and touch it. Rural Scotland has again found a cause that excites it and that brings out the best can-do attitude in our farmers, our food producers and processors and our restaurateurs. For me, as a pioneer of farmers markets and local food, that is a cause for celebration.

I have always supported our industry-led organisations—the Fatstock Marketing Corporation, the Scottish Quality Beef and Lamb Association and its successor, Quality Meat Scotland—in the promotional work that they have done. QMS, which kindly gave me breakfast this morning, must be encouraged and supported under Donald Biggar's steady, sensible leadership, as must its dedicated staff. We must applaud QMS's work in promoting local beef, lamb and pork. We must also welcome the supermarkets' increasing enthusiasm for the local food concept. At the moment Tesco may be leading the way in that regard but, having met Stuart Rose of Marks and Spencer and Justin King of Sainsbury's today, I know that they, too, are embracing the concept.

Local food also supports our tourism industry, with Scotland becoming a destination of choice for discerning gourmets. David Whiteford and his team are helping to lead that charge, through EatScotland. I understand that food tourism as an industry now brings almost £1 billion a year into our economy and is a growing market, although sadly not enough of it is based on local produce. The good work of Walter Spiers and the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group is an example of best practice, through co-operation and seizing the initiative. The Mussel Inn restaurants in Glasgow and Edinburgh are now supplying prime Scottish seafood to the discerning, who would normally have to go to Spain or the south of France to sample Scotland's finest seafood.

The Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society deserves both a mention and increased support for the work that it does in spawning rural co-operative development. I must also mention the growing importance of farmers markets and farm shops—supported by SAOS—which are the very embodiment of the local food concept and have done so much to raise local food up the political agenda. I hope that representatives of the farmers markets will visit us again in Parliament in September, during Scottish food fortnight.

Consumption of local food is also good for our environment, as it reduces our carbon footprint. As other members have pointed out, we must take note of that issue, which relates to sustainability, when contemplating the future of public procurement contracts.

The Scottish diet action plan suggests that consumption of more local, less processed, fresher food is likely to lead to a healthier population. With childhood obesity such a concern in clinicians' minds at the moment, the Government must look to local food to provide some of the solutions in the public health area.

Jim Hume mentioned the East Ayrshire schools project—I know that similar schemes are being considered in Perth and Kinross. Perhaps they should now be rolled out across the country.

All the above ideas chime with the NFUS's campaign to promote local food, and I welcome its initiative on misleading labelling of food, which highlights a major concern that we all share. I know that the minister heard all about the practice today, and I am certain that he shares my view that it must stop. If he can achieve greater clarity of labelling, particularly with regard to country of origin, he will have the support of producers and consumers alike. As well as giving consumers a real choice, such a move will give Scotland's food the chance to be promoted as such.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this worthwhile debate. I intend to return to the Royal Highland show tomorrow and urge any member who has not been before to visit it either tomorrow or over the weekend and experience for themselves the optimism about and enthusiasm for the idea of local food. They will see some of Scotland's finest livestock—much of it is of world-class quality and is a tribute to Scotland's breeders and stockmen. In short, an educational and enjoyable experience awaits them.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 5:36 pm, 21st June 2007

I, too, congratulate Jim Hume on securing this debate. He has a long-standing interest in farming and has done a great deal to support farming communities, particularly in the Borders.

The debate is timely. This morning, I had the pleasure of visiting the Royal Highland show at Ingliston—although I note my position in the food chain, as I was invited neither to breakfast nor to lunch. My visit certainly provided further evidence of the wide range and high quality of Scottish produce. However, on my way there, the bus crashed into a taxi and then got caught in a logjam of traffic from the Gyle to Ingliston. As a result, I must make a personal, impassioned plea for the Edinburgh airport rail link to be taken forward without delay.

In Orkney, we are perhaps blessed more than most. Indeed, Orkney Island Gold and Orkney the Brand have proved particularly successful in highlighting what my constituency has to offer. The quality of the beef, lamb, fish and shellfish are being held in increasingly high regard in Scotland and internationally. Moreover, on the drink front, we have whiskies such as Highland Park and Scapa, a range of beers and the Orkney Wine Company. All of that shows that by harnessing innovation with local produce we can have a great impact both in sustaining a local economy and in securing success in international markets. As Jim Hume said, such moves are good for the economy. I am certainly looking to work with the local council and the tourism and retail sectors to see what more can be done in that respect. Christine Grahame's point about supermarkets was very valid.

As for health benefits, I should, to avoid any accusations of hypocrisy, say that my own diet leaves an awful lot to be desired. I can do no more than strive to improve it. Although Orkney might enjoy advantages over less fortunate parts of the country, the options across Scotland for selling and serving a wide range of healthy local produce are extensive.

The previous Executive did a lot to establish health promotion on the agenda—in that respect, Cathy Jamieson was right to allude to the hungry for success programme—but Scotland still performs appallingly. The recent report from the Federation of Small Businesses highlighted the impact of health on our economic performance, but the situation also has very real and serious social implications. I believe that the campaign for local food can play an important role in rectifying matters.

As far as the environment is concerned, today's statement on climate change makes this debate all the more timely. Reducing food miles will help not only to achieve the objectives that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth set out this afternoon, but to assure consumers about the production of what they consume.

This timely and worthwhile debate offers hope that we can make progress in procurement, in spreading best practice and in raising consumer awareness. I again congratulate Jim Hume on securing it and wish all those who are attending the Royal Highland show—John Scott, in particular—an enjoyable and successful weekend.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour 5:39 pm, 21st June 2007

I, too, congratulate Mr Hume on securing a debate on an important issue.

I acknowledge the contribution that has been made in this area by my predecessor as MSP for East Lothian, John Home Robertson. In the previous session of Parliament, he successfully argued for the inclusion in the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill of sustainability and fair trading as two of the criteria that local authorities should consider when procuring food or catering services. In that debate, John rightly highlighted the success of East Ayrshire Council and North Lanarkshire Council in sourcing food locally when possible. As Christine Grahame said, procurement is the key.

The benefits of local food are increasingly apparent: many members have already spoken of them. Local food is certainly good for the economy. In advance of the debate, I visited the excellent East Lothian food and drink website that East Lothian Council set up and which I recommend. In its directory, I found no fewer than 53 food and drink producers and specialist retailers in my constituency alone. Some of the firms are small, but they sustain employment and contribute significantly to the wealth of the county.

Local food is also good for the environment, reduces congestion on our roads and improves road safety. However, the Royal Highland show clearly does not do that, given Mr McArthur's experience earlier today. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated in 2002 that food miles result in over 17,000 injuries and 290 deaths from road accidents. That is as compelling a case as any for reducing the distance between where food is produced and where it is subsequently consumed.

The roots and fruits healthy eating project in East Lothian is funded primarily by East Lothian Council and NHS Lothian. The scheme delivers low-cost fresh fruit and vegetables to hundreds of customers across 19 towns and villages in East Lothian, encourages healthier eating and provides access to good-quality fruit and vegetables—locally produced, where possible—to local communities at affordable prices. The scheme works with schools to increase awareness of how our food is produced, particularly through working in the scheme's own vegetable garden. I was pleased to attend the scheme's 10th anniversary event recently. Similar schemes are proving to be successful around Scotland.

Like other members, I welcome the NFU Scotland campaign—what's on your plate?—which is aimed at encouraging consumers to buy Scottish produce. I was pleased to pledge my support to the campaign earlier in the week. Furthermore, the launch this month of Scotland Food and Drink is a positive development, bringing together food industry interests from trade bodies and companies to secure a stronger and more profitable food industry in the years ahead.

I cannot claim the level of engagement with farmers markets that John Scott can claim through his involvement in the farmers market movement, but I am a regular customer at the Haddington farmers market. It is an excellent event and its strength is that almost all the food on sale is local, being from either East Lothian or Berwickshire, including the legendary ostrich burgers, which come from just up the road from Haddington. I welcome the support that is given to the farmers market sector by bodies such as SAOS. Will the minister say in his summing-up speech what support the Executive might plan to give the sector to sustain and grow farmers markets in Scotland?

I am glad to have had the opportunity to take part in the debate. I hope that the minister will consider seriously a framework that favours a more local and sustainable trade in food and which moves that agenda forward as fast as possible, for which, as Mr Scott said, there is a great appetite.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 5:44 pm, 21st June 2007

I, too, congratulate Jim Hume on bringing the debate on local food to the Parliament. I also congratulate NFU Scotland on its campaign to encourage people to make an informed decision to buy Scottish food and drink. I welcome NFU Scotland's plans to hold a range of events, from school visits to farms, to information campaigns outside supermarkets.

With members' indulgence, I suggest adding a sixth aim to the five aims of NFU Scotland's what's on your plate? campaign, although it digresses slightly from the motion. The aim would be to provide sufficient ground for people who would like to grow their own food. The Scottish Allotments and Garden Society estimates that there is a shortfall of 3,000 allotment plots in Scotland and that that shortfall is likely to increase.

Research shows that up to 20 people can benefit from the produce of one allotment. Allotments provide positive benefits. The health benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables are well documented—and, of course, fresh fruit and vegetables taste so much better. My father had an allotment in the immediate post-war years, so I was reared on home-grown vegetables of a quality and variety that were unknown to most of my peers. That gave me a taste for healthy eating that many of my contemporaries in north-east Scotland do not begin to understand.

Growing our own fruit and vegetables can have a positive effect on our mental well-being. We all remember Prince Charles's famous admission that he talks to his plants. He said that his plants provide some of his more illuminating conversations, with no risk that what he says will be repeated in the media. I find nothing more relaxing than hand-weeding in my garden, when I can lose myself in daydreams—I might be sad, but I enjoy that.

I welcome moves to use locally produced and sourced food for school meals. The project in East Ayrshire and similar projects in Perth and Kinross have transformed school meals in those areas, where 70 per cent of food is sourced locally. Those examples prove that obstacles can be overcome and that our children can be provided with fresh, local produce. They also demonstrate that Scottish farmers are capable of supplying the markets. Enthusiasm for the projects among parents, pupils and teachers is high. As John Scott said, Conservatives support calls for the development of such initiatives throughout Scotland.

Farmers markets and farm shops are good things. Like other members, I am a regular customer, up in the north-east. It is clear from the growth and success of farmers markets and farm shops that more and more Scottish consumers want to know where the meat they eat was produced and to be able to talk to the farmer about how the animals were raised and fed.

It is sad that there no longer seem to be seasons for our food. Raspberries are now an all-year-round fruit, as are strawberries and blueberries. Fruit often lacks flavour because it has ripened en route to the supermarket in darkness, rather than in sunshine. That was brought home to me when I was on holiday in Cyprus: the locally grown oranges tasted quite different from those that we buy here—the same thing applies to our home-grown crops when they are eaten in season.

I recently visited Milton of Lesmore farm shop, near Rhynie in Aberdeenshire, to see at first hand the field-to-plate success that takes our food supply back to basics. The farmer, Michael Williamson, is passionate about producing the best beef possible by breeding and rearing his beasts on the farm, taking them individually to the abattoir to avoid stressing them, and investing in on-site processing facilities. He sells the meat from the farm shop or at local farmers markets, so there are almost no food miles to calculate. Members should believe me when I say that the food tastes fantastic.

The decisions of Scottish consumers will play a vital role in the growth of a sustainable local food network. It is apparent that Scottish consumers want to give active support to Scottish farmers. We need to change our habits and become a nation of shoppers who follow the simple rules suggested in the NFU Scotland campaign: shop locally, and buy seasonal produce grown in Scotland and the United Kingdom. I am pleased to support the motion.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 5:48 pm, 21st June 2007

I draw members' attention to my membership of the Soil Association.

I congratulate Jim Hume on securing the debate and I pay tribute to John Scott, without whose work on farmers markets during the past decade this would not have been such an informed debate. John Scott has done a tremendous amount on local food in Scotland.

I will make three points. First, members have explained the many benefits of locally grown food. There is nothing better than food that is grown not just locally, but by oneself. I draw the minister's attention to the slow progress that has been made in Scotland on support for allotments, not just in cities but in small towns and rural areas. Allotments afford not only the advantages of fresh food but the social advantages that come from the almost therapeutic effect of producing one's own food. My wife and I have taken our approach to home-grown food a step further; we grow our lettuces on the windowsill behind the kitchen table, so I can reach behind me and pluck a fresh lettuce leaf to eat with any meal we prepare for ourselves.

My second point relates to the whole effect of farming, and it brings us back to the point about the contribution that using local food can make to reducing global warming. If we grow food using less intensive methods or, preferably, organic methods, we will produce a further reduction in global warming gases, because the whole kit of intensive farming, transport and food processing produces up to 17 per cent of the effects on global warming caused by advanced industrial societies.

There are many aspects to consider, but one is the use of nitrogenous fertilisers. The energy that goes into the production of nitrates makes an important contribution to global warming gases, so the fewer nitrates we use as fertilisers, the bigger our contribution—in the context of this afternoon's announcement—and the better things will be.

My final point relates to the reduction of food miles in the tourism industry. I would like to relate a little tale about a little hotel that I stayed in up in Nairn. The hotelier is very proud of the fact that most of the food that he produces, cooks and lays on the table can be labelled with exactly where it came from. That is extremely popular with guests not only from Britain but from abroad. The hotelier says that his ambition is to be able to say, for example, that the milk in the jug—and I stress the word "jug", because there are none of those horrid little plastic packets—comes from Daisy, who at this very moment is in the corner of that field in that particular nearby farm.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 5:52 pm, 21st June 2007

I congratulate Jim Hume on securing this very important debate. I expect that his father would want us all to eat local Scottish lamb, and I would certainly agree with that. I commend the NFUS on its recent efforts in that regard, and I particularly recommend Highland heather-fed blackface lamb, which stands out in excellence. Jim's father would probably say that the Cheviot is better, and we must not forget the Shetland either.

I recently attended the Kintyre working group in Campbeltown, where local food as a tourist attraction was on the agenda. It is still an enigma that we in Scotland have the highest-quality lamb and beef and yet, in some hotels, people are still offered microwaved slabs of something that tastes like shoe leather. We also have the finest hard-shell prawns, or langoustines, in the world, but members should try getting them in Scotland, where the average so-called prawn cocktail contains frozen foreign pink shrimps adorned with a piece of lettuce. If we go to France, we find that local food is not only served, but highlighted in festivals and fairs. If we go to Spain—to Seville or Barcelona, for example—we will find the west coast Scottish prawns, but at huge prices.

Thanks to people such as John Scott, and thanks to the Highland show, we are improving. Places such as the Oyster Bar in Cairndow—which has a famously political car park—produce excellent shellfish. I am thinking too of the Mussel Inn in Edinburgh and the Seafood Cabin in Skipness in Argyll, which is a must for any visitor who likes scallops or queenies.

I recently visited an excellent celebration of local produce at Inveraray primary school, where pupils from primaries 4 and 5 hosted their very own farmers market. Those inspired children have done a project on how food gets from the field to the plate. The Argyll and Bute procurement officer, Alan Brough, told the people assembled that more and more local food was being used in local schools—meat, vegetables and fish. That is a very good thing for our people, our children and our local farmers, crofters and fishermen.

Good local food ingredients are great assets for Scotland. Members should go and see them at the Highland show tomorrow—if they have not been already. We must continue to expand the use of local food in Scotland.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 5:55 pm, 21st June 2007

I pay tribute to Jim Hume for securing the debate. Like Cathy Jamieson, this is my first members' business debate for quite some time, but I remember these debates with great affection, because they are broader and more knowledgeable than normal chamber debates. It was not I who observed that, but Winnie Ewing, who was a great fan of these debates and would always wait in the chamber to take part in them.

The debate has united the Parliament's best-known vegan—perhaps its only vegan—with its best-known carnivore. It has brought in the Parliament's best-known prawn fancier, too—Mr McGrigor's knowledge of nephrops is legendary.

It is entirely fitting that the debate is taking place on the first day of the Royal Highland show, as many people have observed. Perhaps we would have had a larger audience had we held it in the show ring, but, in any case, it has been an informed debate.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, along with others, has been at the show and has met key individuals in all parts of the food supply chain, from producers right through to the main retailers.

The motion debated reflects some of the key concerns of the new Scottish Government. I will run through our five strategic objectives and link them to the concerns raised in the debate.

We want a Scotland that is wealthier and fairer. Scotland's farmers and fishermen work to the highest standards and sustainability. By encouraging people to buy local, we will ensure that the wealth generated by locally produced food remains more fairly in the hands of communities.

As many members have observed, we want a healthier Scotland. Scotland undoubtedly has some of the best natural produce and the most skilled food and drink producers in the world. It stands to reason that by encouraging a greater local consumption of our wonderful quality food and drink, we will contribute to the better health of our population, particularly our school children, who would get a positive experience of food at school by eating tasty, fresh, local produce.

I pay tribute to the hungry for success scheme, which has been a wonderful success, and to schools such as Inverary primary school and their class teacher, Fiona Hamilton, who did such inspiring work to show how important local food is to the area and the school.

There is no doubt that, as Liam McArthur and others have observed, our national diet has been—and in some places still is—notoriously poor. That is why it is all the more important to promote the very best locally produced proteins and meat, encourage greater consumption of our traditional catch of mackerel and herring, which are rich in omega 3, and take all the benefits from vegetables, as Cathy Jamieson does.

We want a safer and stronger Scotland. We have to have confidence in the way that our food is produced throughout Scotland so that we know that it will conform to the highest food safety standards and that we can promote it locally.

We want a smarter Scotland. We need to encourage people in Scotland to know more about their food and understand its great benefits and how to prepare it. We need to ensure that from the earliest stages in school children ask, "Where did that come from?" "What is it?" "How can we use it?" and "How can we get more of it?" We must ensure that at every stage, particularly in relation to school meals—I will mention the East Ayrshire project and other projects in a moment—local food is coming into schools and engaging the curiosity and interest of every child in them.

As Robin Harper and others said, we want a greener Scotland. We need to consider ways to shorten the food chain from farm or net to plate so that we can reduce the environmental impact of transport emissions, among other things. By encouraging greater diversity in land use and innovation in sustainable production methods, we will maintain and improve Scotland's natural environment.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

This might be a pre-emptive strike—the minister is smiling, so it probably is—but will the minister consider the guidance that is issued to local authorities on public procurement, because I do not think that they are all being as excellent as East Ayrshire Council?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I was smiling only because Ms Grahame is well-known for her pre-emptive strikes.

The reality is that of course we will make absolutely certain that the guidance is not only adhered to, but improved.

The issue of food miles has been raised frequently in the media and in the Parliament. We must not be over-simplistic about it. The definitions that we apply will be important but, in general, we are keen to see primary producers and others in the food and drinks industry working more closely together to shorten the supply chain as much as possible between producer and consumer.

A number of members have mentioned allotments. There is a strong desire in Scotland to ensure that the use of allotments is as widespread as possible, but there is a shortage of them. We must turn our attention to that matter.

I am pleased that the five strategic themes that I have mentioned will underlie everything that the Scottish Government does. That means that we have ambitious plans for Scotland's food and drinks industries. Today, my friend the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment announced the creation of an enhanced resource in the Scottish Executive for dealing with food and marketing policy. The new dedicated resource will consider how best to deliver an overall package of support to our food industry that will facilitate the higher uptake of local food in public and private domestic markets. I hope that, in time, it will help to grow local producers' capacity to respond. Mr Hume knows that ensuring that the capacity exists to fuel and increase demand is a key issue—I see Mr Scott nodding. Farmers markets have been an important part of that. In that context, I pay tribute to John Scott, as I have often done.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

We know that we are importing much more organic produce, but a key issue is the capacity of organic producers in Scotland to meet the consumer demand that now exists. Will the minister deal with that point? There has been much cross-party agreement on the need to do more and to develop the existing organic action plan in that respect.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I acknowledge that. Indeed, £20 million more than previously is available for organic produce in the new Scottish rural development programme. We will continue to build that capacity.

We have talked about East Ayrshire Council's groundbreaking work. What has happened with respect to procurement is important; indeed, East Ayrshire Council's work is already being replicated in places in the Highlands and Islands and in Tayside. Important lessons have been learned, and local authorities and other public bodies, such as health trusts, are considering ways of increasing their use of local, fresh and seasonal produce of high nutritional quality.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I am sorry; I am in my final minute.

We will continue to learn lessons and to expand the work that I have mentioned.

I take the point that Cathy Jamieson made about prisons. It is entirely appropriate that people who are doing porridge should have Scottish porridge, and we will ensure that that happens.

In conclusion, the Government recognises the role of food production in sustaining rural economies and communities, and it is useful to be reminded of that role by Jim Hume. I thank him for doing so. We support the provision of fresh local produce through a range of outlets, and we will ensure that Scottish food businesses have the opportunity to grow by supplying local, domestic and other markets. We know how important food and the environment are. Jamie McGrigor talked about food and tourism. Food is central to who we are and what this country is. The Government will do all that it can to ensure that it fulfils the objectives that I have outlined.

Meeting closed at 18:03.