Foot-and-mouth Disease (Livestock Industry)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Rural Affairs and the Environment – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 25th October 2007.

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. Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what new measures it will take to promote a sustainable livestock industry after the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak ends. (S3O-982)

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

We recognise the difficulties for the livestock industry, especially the sheep sector, which has been particularly badly hit by foot-and-mouth disease. The package that I announced yesterday will assist the industry, both in the short and in the longer term.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am delighted that the settlement for Scotland—whose agricultural sector is half the size of England's sector—is much larger than the rescue package down south. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, after the analysis of Professor Scudamore's review of the foot-and-mouth crisis, it will be in Scotland's best interest to maintain livestock production throughout the country; that we must adopt principles for our livestock industry that include fair prices for producers and consumers, growing tasty food that is good to eat and ensuring that our food does not pollute or incur unnecessary food miles; and that those principles can be summed up as a food sovereignty policy for Scotland?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I agree with everything that the member said, and that is why the Scottish Government is determined to take forward the concept of a Scottish food policy, which is attracting widespread support throughout Scotland. The foot-and-mouth crisis over the past two or three months has highlighted a number of issues that should be taken into account by a food policy to help to localise food production in Scotland.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

One of the concerns in the Highlands and Islands is the reduction in sheep and cattle numbers because of changes in common agricultural policy payments. There is a concern that the reduction will accelerate because of the recent difficulties in the marketplace. The loss of cattle in particular in certain areas will affect the very rich habitat there. What is the minister doing to assess the potential impact of those changes in the countryside? What measures will he consider taking to help to counteract the adverse changes that might take place, and when might he be in a position to report to Parliament on those matters?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

We are extremely keen to take forward the issues to which the member referred and to debate them in the chamber, while also taking into account the industry's interests. The package that was announced yesterday is partly intended to instil confidence in the livestock sector that the Scottish Government cares about the future and believes that there is a bright, prosperous future for the sector in Scotland. That is why we brought forward the £25 million investment.

With CAP reform around the corner, I agree that it is important that we look at ways to maintain livestock numbers in Scotland, both for our food policy and for our rural economy. I hope that we can work together to achieve that objective.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

We all recognise the benefits of the islands' unique biosecure position. However, in the circumstances of a food-and-mouth outbreak occurring again at a similar time of year—I hope that it does not— would the cabinet secretary consider measures to accelerate the timescale during which breeding rams could be brought to the islands, if that proved necessary, during the final stages of movement restrictions?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The short answer is yes. Professor Scudamore's review of Scotland's response to the foot-and-mouth crisis will take into account the issues to which Alasdair Allan referred. I urge him and other members to contribute to the review.

The islands, of course, had special treatment during the recent outbreak, because we were able to relax some restrictions there earlier than on the mainland. However, there are more lessons to be learned, and we must have a different response next time to give even more favourable attention to the islands.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I welcome the package, which rightly focuses on sheep. However, is the cabinet secretary working on a package for cattle and pigs, which have also been badly affected by the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

We continue to have virtually daily contact with all the livestock sectors in Scotland, given that there have been ramifications for cattle, pigs and sheep. The purpose of the package that was announced yesterday is to target assistance where, given the circumstances, it is most desperately needed, which is the sheep sector. There is widespread support for targeting the package at that sector. However, we are maintaining a close dialogue with the cattle and pig sectors. I have already agreed to meet the pig industry leaders next week to see how we can assist it.