Food Policy

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:32 pm on 7th November 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:32 pm, 7th November 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-784, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on a national food policy for Scotland.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 3:19 pm, 7th November 2007

Since my appointment, I have been struck by the food revolution that is taking place the length and breadth of Scotland. The Government thinks that it is in the interests of consumers and in our national interest that the Parliament should support a joined-up, national food policy that promotes our economy, health, environment and culture. The time is right for such an approach, for which there is cross-party support in the Parliament. Indeed, the Government is pleased to support all the amendments that have been selected for debate. We can all agree that our food policy should make our nation healthier, fairer, wealthier and more sustainable.

During the summer, I visited many excellent food businesses and primary producers around Scotland, including farmers, crofters and fishermen. I was struck by the quality and variety of the Scottish produce that is being developed on our doorstep and by the dedication, passion and innovation of the people whom I met. As a nation we can celebrate the wealth of high-quality and internationally trusted produce from Scotland's farms, seas and food manufacturers. It is no wonder that communities throughout Scotland celebrate local food at fairs and festivals. Scotland has a reputation for quality. In Orkney, I was told that a number of butchers in England sell only Orkney Island Gold beef, because of the consistently high quality of the meat. I often hear similar messages about the beef that we produce in Scotland.

The campaign to support local, sustainable food is gathering momentum, as I keep finding out at fairs such as the living food event in Cawdor castle, which celebrated Scottish and Highland organic food and promoted slow—rather than fast—food. It is clear that there is a growing trend for organic food. The United Kingdom market was estimated to be worth nearly £2 billion in 2006, and it is growing. Scotland is well placed to exploit that massive potential. In Shetland, I met a young family who run a growing aquaculture business, producing organic mussels—that was one of many such enterprises that I visited during the summer.

Many food and drink businesses are household names in Scotland. In my Moray constituency, we have Baxters Food Group and Walkers Shortbread, as well as a number of international whisky brands. We should remember that our bigger food businesses started out as small food businesses. When I visited the Black Isle show this year, I was informed that the food hall was double the size of last year's food hall and that many exciting and innovative new food businesses had taken stands for the first time. Likewise, the Royal Highland Show's food hall goes from strength to strength with each year that passes.

Producers are tapping into the increasing demand for local food in Scotland. I am sure that all members acknowledge the growing number of farm shops and farmers markets throughout Scotland. The first farmers market was held in 1999 and in Scotland there are now more than 60 active farmers markets, which bring consumers into direct contact with primary producers and help that vital sector's income.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The cabinet secretary is right to highlight the success of such initiatives. However, he is aware of the serious crisis among upland livestock producers as a result of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. Will he say how a policy of local food procurement might help to breathe life back into that troubled sector?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

A local food policy would certainly bring primary producers extra income. The food that is produced on our doorstep is of the best quality and if we can persuade more consumers to buy it, we will help the lamb and other livestock sectors in Scotland, which face challenging times, as the member rightly says.

The number of farm shops has also increased in recent years. There are more than 70 fully established farm shops in Scotland, which sell Scotch lamb and other fantastic meat produce. On Monday, I visited Loch Leven's Larder—which is run by the Nivens, a farming family—on the Loch Leven heritage trail. I was impressed by the links that the Nivens have made between local food production, tourism and health. They have put notice boards in their fields alongside the shop and the heritage trail, extolling the nutritional benefits of the crops that are growing there.

There is a feeling of anticipation that we are on the verge of transforming how we regard the food on our plates. Consumers are taking a far more ethical approach at home, in restaurants and in canteens. Ethical issues raise questions for us all. What is the carbon footprint of the food that we buy? Where did the primary ingredients come from? Given the growing demand to know the provenance of food, how do we know which products are truly Scottish? How much processing has taken place? Have ingredients been added? How much energy was needed to process the food? Where does the food in our children's school meals come from? What about the food that is served in our hospitals and public sector canteens? How much of it is locally sourced? How far have the ingredients travelled to get on to our plates? Who is getting the largest profit in the trading arrangements? Are our producers and suppliers in Scotland and those further afield getting a fair deal? What impact does food waste and packaging have on Scotland's unique landscape and environment? More and more of us in Scotland are asking those questions.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

Is the minister considering the introduction of nutritional standards in the public provision of food, for example in hospitals?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The point is a good one. It is part of the reason why we want a national food policy. We welcome the contributions that members make to highlight such issues.

One thing for certain is that our expectations of food producers and manufacturers are growing and demands on them are mounting.

The public sector should have more of a key role in supporting Scottish food and in achieving our economic and social objectives. In Government, we are keen for children in our schools, patients in our hospitals and inmates in our prisons to be served with local, nutritious food.

A major challenge for our food industry is the capacity building that will enable it to respond to public tenders for the supply of food. I am well aware of the views that members around the chamber hold on the matter. Given those views, I agree to look at the way in which public bodies procure food and whether we can do anything to improve the process. However, we must equally accept the need to do more to help our food producers and manufacturers become more skilled and competent in meeting the growing needs of the public sector.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

On local produce, does the cabinet secretary agree that we should not break European competition rules? One way to ensure that we do not is to focus not on local food but on fresh food that is local.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The member makes a fair point. Our food policy must identify any obstacles to our objectives and find ways to knock them down.

We all recognise that food is fundamental to each and every one of us as a source of energy, and that our choice of diet has a long-term impact on our health and well-being. Nutrition affects brain development, behaviour and people's life chances. Scotland's health is improving, but not fast enough, particularly in our most deprived communities.

This morning's launch by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Glasgow City Council of a new curriculum pack to aid primary school pupils' understanding of diet, nutrition, and physical activity is an excellent example of the links that can be made across health, education, the environment and the economy. Obesity rates are higher in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe. Obesity is set to overtake smoking as the most frequent cause of premature death. A healthy diet affects positively our development and behaviour.

Of course, food education has a key role to play in that regard. We are already supporting initiatives to help explain to consumers and our schools the various stages of the food chain. Those initiatives are crucially important in urban Scotland in ensuring that knowledge about healthy, local food is not simply a countryside issue.

In order to understand the impact of food on health, we need to underpin our policies with the best science. Yesterday, I met the Rowett Research Institute and the University of Aberdeen to discuss their merger plans. That exciting proposal will lead to the creation of a new institute of nutrition and health that targets the prevention of disease through good food science. The new centre of excellence will eventually relocate to the Aberdeen Royal infirmary site at Foresterhill, which will cement the link between food science and health.

We already have a plethora of good, successful strategies and action plans covering agriculture, fisheries, waste, sustainable development, healthy eating, transportation, education and tourism. Since coming into Government, I have launched Scotland food and drink, the Scottish food fortnight and, as recently as last week, Waste Aware Scotland's love food, hate waste campaign. Many in the chamber have endorsed the NFU Scotland campaign to encourage more Scots to ask, "What's on your plate?" I firmly believe that, wherever we chose to eat—in our homes or in restaurants or canteens—we should know where the primary ingredients come from.

I am well aware of the complex legal and practical issues that are attached to the labelling of food items, but I am equally resolute on the need to work with industry to find a practical and workable solution to increase the number of outlets where customers know with confidence where their meat and fish come from.

The complex and constantly evolving set of issues that face Scottish food production and consumption require us—indeed, they compel us—to ensure that all our various policy goals are made clear, coherent and consistent.

I asked for an initial road test of the idea that Scotland should have a national food policy. As a result, we organised the well-attended open space event that took place on 8 October in Dundee. Yesterday, I sent members a copy of the report, which outlines the topics of discussion. Those who attended the event acknowledged that much was already being done across Government to support the food industry, but that much more needs to be done.

Food issues sit well with the Government's approach, which is that all our policies should point to our five strategic objectives and that ministers should work together. That is why the Minister for Public Health will close the debate.

Enterprise, health, rural affairs and other policy areas all have food dimensions and we must now act to ensure that they point in the same direction. The development of a national food policy will do just that. I want the process of developing the policy to be inclusive. To that end, I want to embark on a series of discussions and debates, including a food summit to be held in the early part of 2008. We will also appoint a short-life expert group to take us toward the Royal Highland Show, when we will publish our policy. I hope that we will all be able to sign up to it and that the Government will be able to implement it.

We need a national food policy for Scotland that covers all aspects of food production and consumption, identifies a direction of travel and sets out what we need to change to achieve a long-term vision for Scotland that will benefit our economy, health and environment. I commend the motion to Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that Scotland should have a national food policy and would benefit greatly by having a clear, consistent and coherent approach to food covering health, environmental, social, cultural and economic factors and welcomes the Scottish Government's commitment to launch a national debate and consultation on a food policy for Scotland that takes into account the views of the Parliament, industry and wider society.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 3:30 pm, 7th November 2007

We on the Labour benches welcome the debate. We believe that we can all agree on a great deal. The very fact that the cabinet secretary began his speech by saying that he will accept all three amendments indicates how much broad agreement there is on the issue in the Parliament. The amendments all push in the same direction. That is because there has been an awful lot of debate on the subject in the Parliament in the past eight years. We must use the debate and the forthcoming consultation to get action on the matters on which we all agree. The debates that we have had on organic food, farmers markets and the need to promote local food have shown not only the broad agreement throughout the Parliament, but the high level of cross-party recognition of the importance of the issues.

There is also agreement that we must have a public health policy that focuses on healthy eating and exercise. The minute that we start drawing together a food policy, it begins to stretch out into those other matters. One challenge for the cabinet secretary is to create a coherent food policy. He must ensure that the thinking of all his Cabinet colleagues is joined up and that the entire system is joined up in its actions. We need more joined-up thinking but, crucially, we need joined-up action.

As a starting point, we should put the links between health and food at the heart of our agenda. Far too many households in Scotland live in areas with no easy access to decent affordable food. We all know of estates in our constituencies where the only local shops are the newsagent and the chippy. Too many Scottish households are without access to a car and simply do not have access to local shops or supermarkets that sell affordable fresh fruit and vegetables. Food co-operatives can be an important part of the answer, but there is no substitute for local shops that are near housing. Access to fresh food must be one of our priorities.

A great deal happened in the first two sessions of Parliament to promote the issues. I draw attention to Labour's hungry for success initiative, which has made a real difference through promoting healthier school meals. In the schools that I have visited, one can see that a change is beginning to take place. The measures on free fruit in the early years of primary school, fresh water and breakfast clubs are all about promoting access to healthy food for kids who otherwise would simply not have access to those choices.

The minister mentioned the need to ensure that urban Scotland is part of the picture. Urban schools are a particular challenge. That is why city farms are important, because they introduce school kids to how their food is grown and where it comes from. I know from visiting local farmers that they enjoy bringing schoolchildren out from the city to see their farms—that makes the connection effectively. There are also visits to allotments. We should build such visits into the eco-schools programme so that they are part of the curriculum, to allow kids to understand where foods come from.

I stress the importance of the design of new schools. There is a contrast between two schools in my constituency—St Thomas of Aquin's high school and Tynecastle high school. St Thomas's is a brand-new school with kitchen and dining-room facilities. The school has taken on the agenda of promoting healthy eating. It has smart cards to make buying meals easier and so that there is less of an issue for kids who are on free school meals. The school has discovered that pupils use the dining-room in the new school much more than they used the dining-room in the old school, simply because the room and the meals are more attractive. The school is trying to get kids into eating fruit.

By comparison, the dining-room in Tynecastle high school dates back to the second world war. It is gloomy and looks unattractive. Despite the staff's best efforts, many of the school's students vote with their feet and are more likely to be found eating chips and junk food off-site and outwith the school during their lunch hour.

We want to make kids want to have healthy lunches in their schools—not by forcing them but by giving them a better choice. That is why the joined-up approach advocated by the cabinet secretary is so important. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning needs to feel ownership and that this is part of her agenda.

As part of the cabinet secretary's local sourcing agenda, I ask him to give particular consideration to the Soil Association's proposals on fresh and organic food in schools and to ensure that such issues are discussed with the education secretary.

The East Ayrshire pilot shows the way forward and should be developed further, with the lessons rolled out throughout every local authority in Scotland. That is one of the key challenges for the cabinet secretary in the development of the food policy.

I very much agree with the cabinet secretary's comments about childhood obesity—that is why the food policy needs to link into public health and physical activity.

The debate is not just about food for our schools, as more action is needed for our hospitals, too. Although the emphasis in hospitals is on shorter stays for patients, food is still important in providing patients with energy and aiding the recovery process. We should not forget care homes and other places where older people will live for much longer in future—those places should also be covered by our food policy. The trade union Unison has a done a huge amount of work on promoting a food policy that incorporates our public health sector, particularly our hospitals and care homes. The Labour Party is very much signed up to a new public sector food policy, which we hope will have at its heart the higher standards of nutrition that the cabinet secretary talked about.

We believe that protecting our environment and tackling climate change should be central to our food policy. Carbon footprint pilots carried out by WWF and local authorities have demonstrated that food is a major contributor to the carbon footprint of local authorities. We can tackle that area in Scotland: if we build it into the food policy—the approach should not be a by-product or an extra—we can bring about serious reductions in our CO2 emissions.

The Labour Party accepts that we live in a global world and that the food chain has become longer and more complex in the past decade. Nonetheless, there is much that we can do in Scotland to address issues such as how our food is grown; our reliance on pesticides; our animal welfare standards; local processing; the impact of local food production on our landscapes; and the sustainability of our biodiversity. All those issues need to be factored into our food policy. Last week, we debated landscapes and the contribution that farming and crofting communities make to Scotland's wonderful landscapes. However, our agri-environment schemes need to be properly recognised and resourced.

In the previous session, the Environment and Rural Development Committee—of which the cabinet secretary was a member—carried out an inquiry into the food chain. I invite the cabinet secretary to go back to the recommendations, around which there was unanimity and which included more transparency in the food chain, and tick them off as he develops his food policy. We also campaigned for a supermarket ombudsman. That issue arose as a provisional recommendation from the Competition Commission last week, and we would warmly welcome such a recommendation. We need to push on and get action.

Our inquiry uncovered poor practices, such as short-notice or verbal contracts between supermarkets and farmers that can be broken in a phone call. We heard of farmers putting in investment, only to be told at the last minute that the food would come from elsewhere. We heard about buy-one-get-one-free offers, with the expectation that the packaging would be funded by producers—this in a country in which we rack up food waste routinely. We need a joined-up approach on the waste issue.

I suggest that the cabinet secretary should consider the following issue. During the recent foot-and-mouth outbreak, sheep reared for food were simply slaughtered without entering the food chain. It breaks the hearts of farmers and crofters to have to do that, and it is in nobody's interests. Supermarkets routinely produce huge amounts of waste—they need to be plugged into the waste campaign. There should be some joined-up thinking involving them, too.

Lots of good things are happening in supermarkets—I do not want to be absolutely negative. There has been a lot of work on local food sourcing, but more is needed. That is an area in which we need to act. I direct the cabinet secretary's attention to the fact that a lot more action needs to take place on local food procurement and food sourcing and on issues such as farmers co-operatives. The Scottish Government could act on the structural issues within farming and crofting, such as the promotion of affordable food and the capacity of farmers to work together to secure contracts. I hope that the cabinet secretary will meet the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society to ensure that we get the details right.

There are now fair trade towns and cities throughout Scotland—fair trade also needs to be part of our food agenda. Fair trade makes a difference, and consumers want us to act on the fair trade agenda. Those of us who met Malawian farmers in the Parliament earlier this year know the difference that fair trade is making to their lives. We are not able to grow produce such as coffee, bananas or nuts in Scotland, but we can use our purchasing power in government and as consumers to ensure that we address that agenda.

Our amendment focuses on access and affordability, environmental sustainability and sustainability of our local economies. We are not starting from scratch and there is a lot of agreement. The challenge for the cabinet secretary is not only to get the policy in place but to get action from that policy. That is what we want.

I move amendment S3M-784.3, to leave out from "that takes into account" to end and insert:

", building on work done by the previous administrations, and believes that policy priorities should include local procurement, affordability, sustainability and reducing Scotland's climate footprint, taking into account the views of the Parliament, industry and wider society."

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 3:40 pm, 7th November 2007

I declare my interest as a farmer and refer members to the register of members' interests for my other farming-related interests. I thank the minister for the copy of the DTZ Pieda report.

I welcome this debate on a national food policy. It is taking place at the right time, as rural Scotland starts to pick up the pieces following the foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks and chart a way forward for food production again.

The consideration of a national food policy must be set in the context of worldwide food security. Having been an issue in Europe until 1986, food security is becoming a major concern once again. Europe and Britain have enjoyed 20 years of plenty and surpluses since the mid-1980s. However, although the doubling of the price of grain and massive increases in milk prices over the past year have been welcome from a farming perspective, they are also indicative of a tightening of supply in those commodities.

The high worldwide price of oil, which approaches $100 a barrel today, is encouraging farmers throughout the world to grow crops for biofuels. That development, coupled with increasing demand for western food from China and India, means that plentiful and cheap food may shortly become a thing of the past. Few people had foreseen that a high price for oil would also drive up the price of food but, with peak oil either upon us or past, it is unlikely that oil will reduce significantly in price again. The European Union has recognised that fact and has already reduced set-aside to zero.

We are on the cusp of a new era of demand for global food production and Scotland must play its part. Notwithstanding the dreadful year that producers of sheep, pig and poultry are experiencing, we must support and maintain food production capacity. That is why it was important to support the breeding flocks in the sheep industry post the foot-and-mouth outbreak. The industry has welcomed that support, and I hope that the minister will also support the pig industry if he can. It is important that we sustain a critical mass in both those sectors to maintain slaughtering capacity as well as a level of self-sufficiency in food production in Scotland.

In addition, in the short and medium term, we must support the use of more locally produced food in our school, hospital, council and prison canteens. We must stop paying lip service to enhanced public procurement, as has happened in the past, and start making it happen now. Indeed, in 2002, Morgan and Marley made clear the many ways in which local sourcing can be legitimately specified within existing procurement rules. Perhaps the Government should consider issuing guidelines on that, if some are not already in place.

The terms "protected geographical indication" and "protected designation of origin" have been widely adopted elsewhere in Europe and must be used more in Scotland to give our producers a marketing edge and add value to their product. That is another matter that the Government could helpfully drive forward at little or no cost and was one of the conclusions of the DTZ Pieda report.

The benefits of increasing consumption of locally produced food have already been well rehearsed, but they are worth repeating. By and large, buying locally produced food both reduces one's individual carbon footprint and supports our local farming and processing industries. Local food is fresher, tastier and usually healthier because it has higher vitamin levels—vitamin levels decrease over time in food that is imported from abroad. In addition, locally produced food is often less processed, has lower fat and salt levels and is less likely to cause obesity and diabetes.

We must recognise the health problem that our current diet is creating, particularly for our young people. Nowhere is that more clearly stated than in the document "Review of The Scottish Diet Action Plan: Progress and Impacts 1996-2005". The Parliament should consider ways of implementing many of the recommendations in that report. Perhaps my colleagues Mary Scanlon and Nanette Milne will address that point and talk about minimum nutritional standards in school meals, which Elaine Smith mentioned.

Government departments must take a more cross-cutting and joined-up approach. For example, the health department should not only recognise the benefit of using fresh, local food in local schools but acknowledge the additional value-added benefit to the environment and the local economy. I welcome the fact that Shona Robison is closing the debate.

Similarly, the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change must consider not only the carbon footprints of farmers markets but all their other benefits, including the regeneration and rebuilding of communities and town centres and the education and reconnection of urban and rural communities.

Positive evidence has recently been published about the health benefits of organic food production. That should be taken note of and reconsidered in a new light—and I might be the first convert. Proper labelling must remain a cherished goal, too.

Much enthusiasm exists to develop a coherent national food policy, as we have seen already during the debate, with the greatest potential for improvement lying in the local food sector. We all know that the sector is growing like a mushroom at the moment, but that is happening in a haphazard and random way. Helpful Government support in terms of guidance, targeted funding, further research into ways of adding value and developing co-operation and collaboration can make a difference. I urge Parliament to push the agenda forward with all speed and to support the amendment in my name.

I move amendment S3M-784.1, to insert after "factors":

"; believes that a national policy must include more assistance for public procurement of home-grown Scottish food to be achieved by improved co-operation between Scotland's local food producers and government,".

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 3:46 pm, 7th November 2007

The benefit to everyone's health, the benefit to the environment and the benefit to Scotland's farmers, fishermen and rural communities of choosing more local, fresh and seasonal produce is now beyond dispute. That is why there is so much agreement in the chamber.

I am lucky enough to live in a very rural community—the parish of Birse on Deeside. Just last week, I purchased a lamb, at a fair price, from Ballogie Estate. It is fresh, it is local and I know that it will taste delicious. Also in the parish of Birse is the Finzean farm shop, which opened last year. After just a few months of operation, it was one of the finalists in the recent Scottish Thistle tourist awards. It is an excellent facility, and people come from miles around to shop there. We are very fortunate indeed in Birse on Deeside. The Finzean farm shop is an exemplar of best practice—it features in today's Press and Journal, for instance, as a showcase for drawing together suppliers and other small businesses to forge stronger links between them. The minister spoke about slow food—the newspaper headline is "Deeside produce showcase puts slow food in the fast lane".

Of course, as the minister has suggested, we should be ensuring that people throughout the country have access to such local produce and local outlets. Scotland's local food market has enormous potential for further expansion and its development would deliver many advantages. Moving over to more localised supply chains can bring economic benefits to a region. It can help to enhance linkages between our urban and rural communities, improve food quality in public institutions and be hugely significant in environmental terms by helping to reduce food miles. It is imperative that organisations that are funded by the taxpayer, be they public or private, buy fresh and healthy food as often as possible. The Government must find a way to apply existing European Union fair competition rules as robustly and as favourably as possible in that regard.

The amendments in the names of Sarah Boyack and John Scott both call for the public procurement of local produce. The Parliament must be careful not to call for the Government to ignore fair competition rules that are applicable to all member states of the EU—that would not be right. Our amendment calls on the Government to

"amend public procurement policy to ensure greater use of freshly produced healthy food in the public sector".

That, I think, would address the issue that we are discussing. Of course we encourage the Government to work with retailers in the private sector—according to the European competition rules, that is allowed—to encourage more use of local Scottish produce.

In the global economy in which we live, we cannot have a national food policy that focuses exclusively on local, fresh produce. That would make a nonsense of the commercial world. Like Sarah Boyack, I want to say a few words to ensure that, in our focus on fresh, local food in our national food policy, we do not forget about fair trade.

Last month I was in Kenya, whose economy depends on many fair trade goods. I was alarmed a couple of weeks ago to hear that the Soil Association was considering removing its accreditation of organic goods for produce that is flown in from Kenya simply because it was flown in. That would threaten the fair trading of many goods, and Kenya cannot afford to lose that trade.

In that instance, the Soil Association was focusing on the flower crop. It seemed perverse that it would consider that Kenyan crop to be less green than flowers grown in greenhouses in Holland, which produce far more greenhouse gas emissions. I am glad to say that the Soil Association had a rethink about that ill-advised move and saw sense.

When we devise a national food policy for Scotland, we must be careful that we do not concentrate all our efforts on local and fresh produce and forget about fair trade.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Does the member acknowledge that we must also bear in mind that in this country we would like to develop healthier beef and lamb export markets and that, consequently, we must accept that international trade is important to our agriculture?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I could not agree more. We think alike on that issue.

I would like Shona Robison to address the fair trade issue in her summing up and assure us that the Government will give due weight to fair trade in its deliberations.

Our criticisms of the Government on a national food policy relate to what we perceive to be its lack of action. The Government has had six months to examine the issue with stakeholders. It has conducted its rural listening tour, which is good. It has participated in debates on local food and agriculture, which is absolutely right. It has taken part in the what's on your plate? campaign with the NFUS, as the minister said. It has been in contact with local authorities and public sector suppliers. It has seen and debated last year's report by the former Environment and Rural Development Committee on the food supply chain. It has done an awful lot of work on the issue over the past six months, so I was looking forward to what it would come up with. However, all that it has come up with is a consultation.

Richard Lochhead has said that he has made supporting the food industry a "clear priority". If the consultation is all that he has come up with after six months of thinking about his priority, I wonder what he has done on his lesser commitments.

On 4 October 2006, Richard Lochhead said in this chamber that a new food policy was long overdue and that

"We need proactive action on the issue from Scotland's responsible minister".—[Official Report, 4 October 2006; c28135.]

I could not agree more. Richard Lochhead is absolutely right. I just want to see him take a little more action and make specific proposals.

I move amendment S3M-784.2, to insert at end:

"believes that educating children about where their food comes from must be central to any national food policy; resolves that early action is required to amend public procurement policy to ensure greater use of freshly produced healthy food in the public sector, including in our schools, hospitals and other public bodies; calls on the Scottish Government to assist in the development of farmers' co-operatives and farmers' markets, and further calls on the Scottish Government to work with retailers to encourage more use of local Scottish produce in stores."

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 3:52 pm, 7th November 2007

This debate covers health, education, agriculture, environment and transport. All those aspects have been brought together to create a national food policy. It is worth reflecting on how people can feed into such a plan.

On procurement, Highland Council has been considering how it can maximise the use of local food and include a reasonable proportion of organic and fair trade food in schools, hospitals and the local prison. When the local school meals group met, it discussed the problem with rules, which a number of members have mentioned. The Scottish Executive interprets the EU rules. It is important that they are made perfectly clear. I was interested in what Mike Rumbles said about our focus on fresh produce. We need to find a way to deliver. The rules have to be crystal clear so that everyone can take part.

Seasonality is important, too. Small producers have to be able to work up to the possibility of taking over the production of food for schools locally. The local school meals group acknowledged that, given that samples have to be provided, it would be a good idea to have pilot schemes involving 20 or 30 schools in each council area that does not already have a good system in place. The availability of food all year round will require greater capacity. Therefore, we have to encourage more people to be involved in the production of food for local consumption.

When the tenders came in, it was found that although Highland Council, to its shame, employed Brake Bros—before the councillors had a full handle on things in the summer—the local produce on offer was only about 10 per cent more expensive. That could have been accepted within the budget limits, but the big killer in rural areas such as the Highlands is the cost of distributing food to schools. The wholesale costs of distribution are outrageous. We have to find a way for food producers to share those costs between them and try to find a cheaper way so that all schools in the area can be served. Many of the products cannot be grown at some of the smaller schools in the west.

I am a member of the Scottish Crofting Foundation—that might be relevant to what I am about to say. It was shown in the planting to plate exercise during the summer that, when we teach children how to plant or rear food and then cook it, we get the best of both worlds. We want schools to be involved. Inverness high school has its own garden. It sells the produce in local farmers markets and it also serves up the produce in the canteen. That example shows that it is possible for schools to grow their own food.

The Highland people were keen to involve East Ayrshire Council, which sources 60 to 70 per cent of food locally—we will probably hear more about that—compared with 13 per cent in the Highlands. There are practical issues in changing from using bulk suppliers to employing local suppliers. We must do that in stages by increasing the number of schools that are involved in pilots. I recommend that approach to ministers.

I was pleased to read the report of the open space event, which mentions my point on education. The top priority of the nine issues on which participants voted was:

"How can we engage consumers in relation to food and health?"

Personal and social education in schools was regarded as the main way to do that. If we are to have a system in schools that benefits the whole nation, we will need appropriate materials and national guidance on how schools should deliver the message. It is important that education ministers are involved. In the past, ministers have said that they cannot interfere in what schools teach, but it is time for us to set guidelines.

Inspectors would then consider at a later date whether standards were being met.

We must not forget the role of the Food Standards Agency. It is interesting that, at a time when we are talking about major reports that show that organic food is good, the FSA is agnostic on the matter. That does no service to Scotland, and it has to change. Worse than that, however, the FSA is also silent on genetically modified ingredients in food. It is assumed that, under the surface, quietly, it is in favour of GM ingredients in animal feed. We must get the Food Standards Agency sorted out.

As we move forward, we need a definition. The idea of food security can be developed into food sovereignty. That concept does not display an exclusivist attitude against food from outside, but goes to the heart of our health and our personal, physical and economic well-being. It is in our interests that Scotland continues to produce top-quality food and that we get a chance to eat it. The type of food that we want can be summed up in three words—good, clean and fair. We need to get producers and consumers on board, and we can do that by having a national food policy that uses that definition.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 3:58 pm, 7th November 2007

Like others, I welcome today's debate and the Government's intention to develop a food policy. The vision in the motion is limited, but I am glad that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment went beyond that and set out his broader ambition. By accepting the amendments, he made his approach to the debate more complete.

There is no doubt that, internationally, Scotland has a very good reputation for high-quality produce. Our future is best served if we maintain our approach and produce quality goods for international markets rather than trying to compete in the mass commodity markets as other countries do. If we stay in the high-value markets, that will benefit our industry and our communities more in the future. Many Scottish products are already successful in such markets. Those products include Orkney beef, as the minister mentioned, Shetland salmon and west coast prawns, mussels, scallops and crabs. They also include the light lambs that we get from our Highlands and Islands communities and prime pork cuts. They are all regarded as high-quality products with a Scottish label on them.

That can also be said of other produce, such as raspberries, potatoes or cheeses—

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

That includes cheese from Mull, Campbeltown, Connage Highland Dairy close to where I live in Ardersier, and Tain, where Jamie Stone's family has an interest. It is alleged that, in the early days of his family's business, Jamie Stone used to mix the cheese by swimming in the bath in which it was contained. I shudder to think what that did for the nation's health, but nonetheless the company survived.

We have high-quality produce, and many of the products have value added to them locally. By using smokehouses or freezing plants and by creating products such as Baxters soups, Walkers shortbread or the famous Stornoway black pudding, we add value to high-quality produce and increase its reputation. We need to keep operating in those markets and growing our export markets.

We need to open up more fully another front, which is growing more local markets for local food: markets that serve local needs, that serve the tourism offer in all parts of Scotland, that support smaller producers and that give new and additional opportunities for organic produce.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Does the member acknowledge that some of the highest quality food produced in Scotland, with the lowest carbon footprint—particularly that which is produced in the member's own Highland region—is produced by traditional rather than organic methods?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

Both have a part to play. We should not be antipathetic towards organic or traditional methods.

Consumers today are much more interested in food: where it comes from, the environmental impact of production, its health benefits and the sustainability of the production systems. That trend will continue, providing more opportunity for local food markets to grow on the back of that interest.

As we have seen in recent years, local food has become a much bigger part of the tourism offer in Scotland. In the short-break market in particular, a significant proportion of people comes to Scotland to sample food in all its different forms. Again, that creates an opportunity for more local markets.

A lot has been done already—I do not want to give the impression that nothing has been done. I pay tribute, for example, to the work that John Scott has done in pioneering and promoting farmers markets in Scotland. There have also been local food festivals, including Highland feast in my area. The Highlands and Islands local food network helps to support those who produce local food, and the minister mentioned the living food event at Cawdor castle, which was a celebration of organic slow food.

There has been organic production in Inverness high school, which Rob Gibson alluded to but did not specifically mention, where food is being produced within the school. Individual producers have used new techniques to market their produce, for example mail order for local food in the Cairngorms.

All those organisations struggle financially and organisationally to produce what they do and promote the local food market, and more needs to be done. I call on the Government directly and through its agencies—such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise in my area—to give more support and to ensure that the production of local food and supporting its marketing, promotion and organisation is a key strategic and economic objective for each region.

We can do more to support local production. For example, the apprenticeship system that the Highlands and Islands local food network has promoted to help people into the industry is a good initiative. Perhaps we could roll that out further. Sarah Boyack's point about the need for more local abattoirs as part of a strategic approach to producing food is critical. They have high environmental standards to meet, and we need to ensure that they can meet them.

I want to turn to procurement and briefly pick up on some of the points that were made by Rob Gibson. As an education minister, I had the pleasure of visiting Hurlford primary school when it was promoting hungry for success. That school is highly successful not just in giving good food to the kids in their school meals—as featured in "Landward" on Friday night—but in marrying education about food with health, exercise and the experience of food. The great thing that has happened in East Ayrshire is that people have broken the back of the problem of procuring food locally. They have done that successfully, and the time is ripe to move that on, share their practices more effectively and encourage their adoption across the whole system. We need a pragmatic and practical approach and the Government can help in that process.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

You should close now, please, Mr Peacock.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I have one final plea. It is great to have the debate, but one sector of the industry—the pig sector—is struggling terribly. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment met its representatives recently. It would be terrible if, after all today's good words, that sector contracted. I urge the cabinet secretary to act quickly to support the pig sector in its time of plight.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I point out to members again that we are very tight for time in the debate.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 4:05 pm, 7th November 2007

The debate is welcome and timely. It is entirely appropriate that discussion and consultation should be initiated with the Parliament, the industry and wider Scottish society about the merits of a national food policy.

We hear ever more of the obesity epidemic and its complications, which now affect younger age groups than ever before. We lead more sedentary lifestyles. Children are ferried to school, are often prevented from playing outdoors and spend much time in front of television and computer screens. That makes a healthy food intake all the more important for their welfare as they grow up.

Climate change has put a focus on our carbon footprint and increased our awareness of the food miles that are involved when we import meat, fruit and vegetables. However, we have become used to eating fruit and veg out of season and to tasting exotic varieties that were unheard of in my youth. We have also become used to paying relatively low prices for our food, as supermarkets vie with one another for our custom.

Our primary food producers—farmers and fishermen—have had tough times and have been harshly treated by supermarkets. Our farmers are dealing with the after-effects of BSE and foot-and-mouth disease and they face the crippling impact of red tape. Our fishermen's livelihoods are threatened by quotas and reduced days at sea.

Given that, it is timely for the Government to consider a national food policy to bring together all interested bodies to help our producers, promote our local food, educate people to appreciate the excellent produce that is available in Scotland and encourage a healthier lifestyle. Everyone stands to benefit: we would feel better and look better and, in due course, even the health service might be relieved of some of the pressures that an increasingly obese society places on it.

Work to improve diet-related health in Scotland is not new, of course. As far back as 1996, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, who was then the Scottish health minister at Westminster, introduced the Scottish diet action plan, which has been the basis of food and health activity for the past decade. The previous Executive updated the plan in 2004 but, overall, the action that has been taken has not had a significant impact on population trends and nutrition intake. More needs to be done, which is why we welcome the new Government's proposals.

Scottish Conservatives strongly support farmers' interests. After all, farmers are the stewards of the countryside and are ultimately responsible for safeguarding our food production. The attractions of rural Scotland are the result of their endeavours and they are the bedrock of many of our communities.

We have supported the NFUS's what's on your plate? campaign and we have spent the summer vigorously promoting local food through our buy local, eat local campaign, because we see choosing fresh locally produced food as one way in which we can all help to shape a healthier, greener and better future for Scotland. Local food not only tastes better but brings benefits to consumers, producers, the economy and the environment.

As Peter Peacock mentioned, John Scott has been instrumental in promoting and expanding the successful network of farmers markets. The fact that crowds of people increasingly visit those markets regularly to buy fresh local produce shows clearly that they like what is on offer. However, as Sarah Boyack said, far too many people still do not have access to such food and still eat an unhealthy diet. Too many people have no idea where their food comes from—I was told the other day that that even includes people in rural areas. I, too, think that farm visits by schoolchildren or school visits by a mobile farm unit, such as that which Aberdeenshire farmers established, are invaluable in teaching children how their food is produced and where it comes from. I hope that such visits encourage them to seek out fresh local produce as they grow up.

Like other parts of rural Scotland, Aberdeenshire has a wealth of excellent produce. We have top-quality beef, lamb and pork, excellent wild venison, rabbit, game birds, fish, eggs and poultry, and fruit and vegetables in season that are full of flavour. Many local producers also process the food that they produce and now sell cooked meals, pies, chutneys and jams that cater for our busy lifestyles. As I said in Parliament last week, I hope that many of us will enjoy a little of that north-east produce when I welcome a taste of Grampian to Holyrood in January.

It is important that we as consumers support our local producers, but sales at farmers markets and farm shops are not enough. A national food policy must encourage and facilitate the procurement of fresh home-grown food for our public services—for hospitals, schools, prisons and other publicly run institutions. Our amendment stresses the importance of that.

Farmers need support in other ways. The Government must work to ensure that supermarkets act more responsibly in their relations with suppliers and on environmental issues, and action must be taken to insist that labels accurately reflect the origins of the products that they describe. We would also like more encouragement to be given to the formation of farmers' co-operatives.

In the wake of the recent foot-and-mouth outbreak, it would surely make sense to consider the possibility of reinstating local abattoirs and other processing facilities. The overregulation—much of which comes from Europe—that puts our food industry at a competitive disadvantage must be addressed. We urge the Government to proceed with its promised review of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage without delay.

Finally, on a visit last week to a very efficient and well-run pig farm in Aberdeenshire, I learned at first hand just how threatened the pork industry is as a result of the rise in feed prices. A loss of £20 per pig is simply unsustainable. I hope that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment will take prompt action to save the Scottish pork industry.

There is still a long way to go before we can achieve the cultural change in our national eating habits that will produce the healthy Scotland for which we are all striving, but I hope that the proposed national food policy will help to speed up that process.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 4:11 pm, 7th November 2007

I was reminded by what Peter Peacock said that I must declare an interest in my brother's small cheese-making company.

I will make a couple of brief points before I come to my main point. The teaching of cooking is linked to what we have been discussing. Excellent local produce may be brought to schools, hospitals or whatever public institution, but despite our living in the age of Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver, the teaching of cooking is not as good as it should be or as it was in our parents' and grandparents' time. That is probably a resource issue for our schools and colleges, but I ask the minister and his colleagues to remember it. Despite people's best intentions, there is an absence or lack of skills.

Rob Gibson rightly brought to our attention the second issue—the transport of food. I will expand slightly on what he said. He was correct about the distribution of food in areas such as the Highlands. The costs that are involved are prohibitive. The transport of food into the Highlands is also an issue. Anyone who is driving on the A9 north of Inverness will sigh with weary exasperation when they find themselves behind a queue of lorries that are delivering to supermarkets. The issue is getting produce off the roads and on to rail lines. I ask the minister to co-ordinate matters as much as he can with his colleague Stewart Stevenson. Things were better a few years ago when Safeway used rail lines, but as far as I know, it does not now use the far north line. Getting produce on to rail lines could make a great difference, not least to the Scottish Government's budgets.

Given the intervention that I made last week, the minister will not be surprised by my main topic. In the brief time that is available to me, I want to talk about Mey Selections, which has a highly successful food marketing system that is based in the north of Scotland. I will say something about its background. As we know, farmers and fishermen have come under pressure as a result of common agricultural policy reform, declining herds and flocks and the European Community's fisheries regime. The sheer isolation of the Highlands and Islands is an issue, as are the distances there, which I talk about again and again. It was thought in the far north that all that was being said about local markets was excellent, but that local markets were not sufficient. People had to look to the larger markets and more affluent markets further away. That was why Mey Selections was set up. It is part of an initiative that was set up with the aim of protecting the sustainability of primary agriculture and food producers in the north Highlands. It preserves the culture and way of life of a declining population, which is hugely important and very much in keeping with the ethos not only of the Scottish Government, but of all right-thinking people in the Parliament. Mey Selections has raised the region's profile by creating an elite product. We make no apologies about that.

There is one lesson—which perhaps the old Highlands and Islands Development Board learned many years ago, as Peter Peacock recalled—that can be learned from what I have said. The image of the Highlands and Islands has been hugely important. The Highlands equals beauty, purity, environmental cleanliness and so on. That image has helped Mey Selections enormously. Other parts of Scotland can build on that lesson.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I had an informal meeting with representatives of Mey Selections and have agreed to have a formal meeting with them in due course. I pay tribute to the success both of Mey Selections and of the north Highland initiative. I agree with the member that we should learn lessons from the initiative's success and spread them elsewhere.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

Indeed, Mey Selections made me aware of that meeting, for which I thank the minister in the best way that I can.

Thinking about the possibilities for the future, I believe that it is worth remembering that the parallel organisation based at the other end of the country—Duchy Originals—has a turnover of some £30 million of sales, so there is a huge price to be had. In this, the third year of the Mey Selections brand—I am grateful to Robert Gray for this—sales are approximately £8 million. The target is to achieve £20 million by 2010.

As the minister is aware from his meeting, enormous personal effort has been made by people such as Robert Gray and his colleagues in getting the brand going, but it has not been easy. Assistance from Government has been valuable but—I know that every MSP comes with a bill, sir—I think that more assistance will be required in future if we are to replicate that success. However, I believe that the minister recognises that.

I have merely outlined a success story that can be copied in other parts of Scotland, but such success is not just about local markets but about local markets selling to the wider market. Indeed, I hope that, one day, the products will be sold to the international market.

In closing, let me pick up a point that Peter Peacock made. No matter what I do or say in life, people say, "Ah yes, but don't you come from the family that made cheese in the bath?" That is true. However, I point out, first, that the bath was pink and, secondly, that my parents did not actually make cheese in the bath but hung it in my mother's pillowcases over the bath. Periodically, the pillowcases would rip so it is true to say that I was sometimes not washed for some days. Whether that was for the better or the worse for me, l leave it to members to decide.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:16 pm, 7th November 2007

Before I come to my own remarks, I will comment on a few points that other members have made in the debate, which has been excellent so far.

Mike Rumbles is right to recognise that we should not go for exclusivity of local produce. I shall deal with that issue in my speech.

Both Jamie Stone and Rob Gibson made important points on the need for cross-sectoral thinking by including education in the debate.

Alex Johnstone made a point about traditional farming. For about 8,000 to 10,000 years, we farmed organically. That is traditional farming.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I will give way when I have finished making this point.

The so-called traditional farming to which Alex Johnstone referred—that is, intensive farming—has been going for perhaps 150 years. I suggest that the first form of traditional farming should have precedence over the second.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Intensive farming methods and traditional farming methods are two different and exclusive things. Given that organic status in this country is governed by the rules of the Soil Association, is it not reasonable to point out that there was nobody around to state whether traditional methods were organic for those 8,000 to 10,000 years?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

That is, I think, what we call spinning. At this point, I should perhaps declare an interest as a member of the Soil Association, of which I have been a member for some time.

The amendments that were selected for the debate all mention local food and local procurement, but we feel that we need to go further. Rather than treat the suggestions just as a good policy idea, we believe that standards and mandatory targets should be put in place across the public sector to drive a change in procurement practice. The Green amendment, which was not selected for debate, raised that issue. In particular, our amendment commended the tremendous work of the Soil Association's food for life programme in promoting food education and school meals that are 75 per cent—not 100 per cent—fresh and unprocessed. Such school meals are also 50 per cent locally produced—again, not 100 per cent—and comprise 30 per cent organic ingredients. That fits in with the point that Mike Rumbles made.

Mike Rumbles also talked about fair trade. What about fair trade for Scottish farmers, many of whom live on incomes of less than £10,000 a year?

The Government motion highlights the need for

"a clear, consistent and coherent approach to food covering health, environmental, social, cultural and economic factors".

The food for life targets cover all those areas. They aim to provide fresh, local and organic food on the dinner plate.

The Scottish Green Party has long championed local procurement. With its renewed focus on food and local procurement, the Scottish Government ought not to miss the opportunity to turn policy rhetoric into practice. That could be achieved by making the food for life targets mandatory across the public sector. Food for life pilot schemes have already demonstrated that that is achievable; they were successfully evaluated by the previous Executive. Sourcing ingredients locally is crucial for the viability of Scottish producers and independent shops, supporting strong and cohesive local economies as well as reducing food miles and climate change emissions. Both John Scott's and Sarah Boyack's amendments recognise that and support local sourcing of ingredients.

The Green amendment was the only amendment to mention the impact of supermarket domination on the issues that we are debating. However, in her excellent speech, Sarah Boyack referred clearly to the problems that supermarkets are causing. They are undermining local economies. Communities from Portobello to Castle Douglas and from Partick to Inverness—to name just a few—have campaigned against further supermarket developments in their area, because they know full well the direct impact that giant supermarkets can have on their local high street.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

Does the member agree that the issue in Inverness and, perhaps, other parts of Scotland is the domination by one supermarket company, to the exclusion of others?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Indeed. We will not mention the name of that supermarket in the chamber, but everyone knows what it is. The fact that it dominates north, south, east and west of Inverness cannot be good either for competition or for the local economy.

I must ask the Scottish Government whether it will consider replacing without delay the supermarket code of conduct with independent regulation, if that is possible, to protect consumer choice, the environment and the social and economic benefits that local food provides. The time for a long policy conversation has passed. The present conversation is a bit too long and will be concluded by the time of the Royal Highland show next year, which cannot come soon enough for me. It is time to get things going on the ground and to deliver a healthy, sustainable food economy in Scotland.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 4:22 pm, 7th November 2007

As previous speakers have indicated, this debate is not just about food but about a national food policy that must include many different elements—health, the environment and tackling poverty. Over the years, I have taken a particular interest in dietary health and nutrition. I believe firmly that this issue is among the most fundamental that our Parliament and society face.

A glance at this morning's BBC news helps to illustrate why. The Scottish bulletin reported that obesity among our children has increased by 50 per cent over the past decade. It went on to report concern that recruitment to the armed forces is falling in Scotland due to obesity among young people. Beautifully juxtaposed with those two items was a report on a pie-tasting competition.

The previous Executive made significant efforts to address the issue of food, nutrition and healthy eating—for example, through the introduction of free fruit in schools for young children and the excellent hungry for success initiative. The Parliament also supported and passed the Breastfeeding etc (Scotland) Act 2005, which I introduced. That is a good example of support for locally produced, excellent-quality fresh food.

I will mention three areas that should be included in the proposed national debate and consultation. The first is food co-ops, which play an important role in our more deprived communities. North Lanarkshire has a number of food co-ops, which come together under the umbrella of the North Lanarkshire Federation of Food Co-operatives. Several of the local co-ops and the central store are located in my constituency. They deliver an accessible supply of quality affordable food to some of North Lanarkshire's most disadvantaged communities and are supported in that by North Lanarkshire Council. Having a full-time community resource worker, Tommy Murphy, who has been involved in supporting the federation from the outset, is vital to the federation's success, as is the good will and hard work of the volunteers involved and partnership working with agencies such as NHS Lanarkshire.

Council support is paramount to ensuring the continuation of local food co-ops. North Lanarkshire Council must be commended for recognising the importance of such initiatives and for working with food co-ops to expand their health promotion role. The council has also encouraged the ethos of health-promoting schools and, innovatively, has extended that to nurseries. An example of good practice that the Government might consider in its deliberations on food is the sale to parents of fruit and vegetables, which are supplied by the federation of food co-ops at cost price, at St Patrick's primary school in Coatbridge. Not only does that allow parents to access good food easily; it makes the connection between what children are learning at school and their home life.

The second issue is our children's nutrition. There have been strides forward in the food that is provided in our schools. As someone who has consistently supported the idea of free school meals, I am interested in seeing the results of the free school meals pilots. Although there is still insufficient evidence on causal links between nutrition and children's learning among the general population, there is some evidence of benefits for children with learning difficulties. That, along with the fact that obesity in our children is reaching epidemic proportions, highlights the importance of developing a national food strategy, and of monitoring and supporting quality research. I was pleased that the minister said that a new institute of nutrition and health is to open.

In order to promote optimum dietary health, we need to focus on the beginning of life—on nutrition for expectant mothers and on breastfeeding. Research has shown that there is a significantly reduced incidence of obesity among children who have been breastfed, along with a raft of other health benefits. Significant research was published this week that demonstrated a clear physiological link between breastfeeding and improved IQ. The food debate must include breastfeeding. Ministers urgently need to increase funding to support and promote breastfeeding, which should include the promotion of our unique Scottish legislation.

This is not rocket science. It is clear that our health is affected by food and nutrition, so we need to start before birth by focusing on better food and nutrition, educating our children and their parents and legislating where necessary. Most important, we must ensure that access to good-quality nutritious food is not restricted to the affluent in our society but is available to all via initiatives such as food co-ops, free school meals and support for breastfeeding. We should ensure that we have nutritional standards in all our public provision, for example in hospitals. The tenacity that was shown by the previous Executive and the Parliament in pursuing the smoking policy was commendable. I hope that the new Government will apply the same level of resolve to food and dietary health.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party 4:27 pm, 7th November 2007

There has been a great deal of discussion this afternoon about the benefits of developing a national food policy, be that environmental, health, economic, social or cultural. I welcome the cabinet secretary's work to pull those disparate strands together. As on other issues, the Government's approach is a commonsense one: to cross traditional departmental boundaries and unite fragmented policy initiatives into a cohesive whole.

There were undoubtedly some good food policies formulated under the previous Executive. However, our appalling—and worsening—health statistics show that there is still much that needs to be done. Scotland now has the highest obesity levels behind only the USA. Obesity is linked to 500,000 cases of high blood pressure and 30,000 cases of type 2 diabetes in our country each year. The health problems that are associated with our expanding waistlines cost the NHS £171 million overall in 2001 alone.

However, we do not need statistics to see that we have a problem with our food habits and our food supply. I have only to look at my own poor diet to find a great example of that. It makes sense for us to eat fresh food that is locally produced, as doing so helps our local economy as well as our health and protects our environment as well as our rural industries. As other members have mentioned, one way of expanding the use of locally produced foods is through farmers markets. Farmers markets have been an extremely successful example of local farmers fighting back against the supermarket squeeze and improving their profit margin by cutting out the middle man.

Here in Edinburgh, we have one of the biggest and most successful farmers markets in Scotland, and—according to a survey by Country Life magazine—one of the best of the 500 in the UK. Edinburgh farmers market now attracts around 6,000 people a week, with all food sourced from within a 50-mile radius. It brings over £1 million to the rural economy and around £800,000 to the city centre's economy each year. That is a fantastic success story, an inspiring celebration of the best of Scottish produce and a significant tourist attraction under our castle.

In order to tackle our problems with food, however, we need to coordinate our action to get locally sourced produce out of specialised markets and into the main stream—into our local grocery stores, schools and hospitals.

Age Concern and the Royal College of Nursing recently highlighted the importance of good-quality food in our hospitals. At this point, I should declare an interest as someone who worked on the RCN's campaign before I entered Parliament. Age Concern estimated that six out of 10 older people in the UK are at risk of becoming malnourished or of their condition getting worse while they are in hospital. The repercussions of that are highly significant. Patients who are malnourished when they stay in hospital stay there for longer, require more medication and are much more likely to suffer from infections.

A number of issues need to be tackled to alleviate the problem. One measure that we must take is to improve the quality and choice and, in particular, the nutritional content of the food that is available to patients. A recent RCN UK survey of its members found that nearly half of them thought that the nutritional content of hospital food was below average. That does not surprise me when I think of the food that was served to my father-in-law recently as he recovered from major heart surgery in Edinburgh royal infirmary. We were not the only family who had to bring in food supplements for a patient on that ward. That is another clear example of how private finance initiative contracts put profit before patients and deliver a poor service just when people need support the most.

Even outwith PFI contracts, some departments still use EU procurement rules as an excuse for inaction. That cannot and should not be the case. We can work to support our local food industry, as is done in Italy, France and Scandinavia. I welcome the Minister for Environment's recent commitment to ensuring that that is done here.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I apologise to the back-bench members whom I was unable to call. We now move to the winding-up speeches.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 4:31 pm, 7th November 2007

Like John Scott, I begin by declaring my interests—as a farmer and as a past director of the NFUS.

Today's debate has highlighted a subject that is close to my heart—the procurement of local food, especially by the public sector. I am reminded of the overwhelming cross-party support that colleagues showed during my members' business debate back on 21 June, which was the day that the Royal Highland show started. Most people would find it impossible to argue against the use of local food, which benefits not only the economy but our health and the planet. To put it simply, the use of local food benefits our health, wealth and mother earth.

As with last week's debate on Scotland's historic environment, it is extremely difficult to disagree with the terms of the motion. I am glad that the cabinet secretary acknowledged that the motion lacks detail and expressed his party's support for the Liberal Democrat amendment, which covers the points that were made in June, both in my motion and during the debate.

In that debate, I talked about the use that East Ayrshire Council had made of a modest £30,000 from the hungry for success initiative to augment existing resources to fund its healthy eating schools pilot project. Such initiatives are crucial in developing and thereafter maintaining the use of fresh and locally produced food in the public sector. I look to the cabinet secretary and his education colleagues for clarification of what replacement funding will be put in place when the present funding comes to an end. Given that it is undeniable that the hungry for success project has played a vital role in East Ayrshire and that it has benefited our young people, I hope that the Scottish Government will put funding in place beyond 2008.

It is perceived that procurement rules can be a hindrance, but that need not be the case. As Shirley-Anne Somerville said, France, Italy and parts of Scandinavia have successful purchasing systems that push the competitive balance in favour of small, local producers and which are similar to those that were used in the East Ayrshire project. The fact that they focus on freshness and seasonality helps local suppliers to bid for contracts that have been broken down into smaller parts.

In a global marketplace, it is difficult to persuade the larger retailers to regularly use a significant amount of Scottish produce. In their quest to give customers more buy-one-get-one-free deals—that is BOGOF to you, cabinet secretary—[Laughter.]

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I ask the member to repeat that remark.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

The cabinet secretary can read it in the Official Report tomorrow morning.

Given that the so-called BOGOFs are offered at the cost of the producer, the retailers can keep their costs down to maximise profits. It is almost inevitable that retailers will make the economic decision to source where it is most cost effective to do so. However, we all agree that it is nonsensical to buy in food from countries thousands of miles away. Such a practice removes the economic benefit from Scotland and means compromising on the quality and freshness of the food that we eat. In addition, consumers want produce to be available all year round, which results in out-of-season fruit and vegetables being shipped in from far away.

It is probably impossible to change every consumer's mindset because people always want variety and choice at a reasonable price. However, it is possible to encourage retailers to source more local produce. When will the Government deliver on planning requirements for supermarkets that would ensure that a proportion of the goods that they stock are sourced and delivered locally?

Healthy local food must be affordable and accessible. Local community initiatives should be encouraged. Many charitable and voluntary groups will be eligible for lottery and other funding, but the Government has a huge role to play in ensuring that our public services have the resources and tools to help them to deliver on healthy and locally grown produce.

The supermarkets have a key role to play in ensuring that primary producers get a better deal. The Competition Commission has just reported back on its investigation and recommended that there should be an independent ombudsman, which the Liberal Democrats have recommended for a long time. In 2004, Richard Lochhead spoke about redressing the financial imbalance between

"the plough and the plate."—[Official Report, 25 November 2004; c 12238.]

In addition, the Scottish National Party manifesto pledged to stop the exploitation of primary producers by supermarkets.

Ensuring that there is both a strengthened code of practice for supermarkets and an ombudsman would be a welcome move to address problems in the supply chain. In Mr Lochhead's response to one of my parliamentary written questions, he stated that he would await the outcome of the Competition Commission's report before making a decision on an ombudsman. That report is out and we await the cabinet secretary's decision on it.

I wonder whether we really need the motion, which congratulates the SNP and welcomes its commitment to launch a consultation and national debate. The debate started a long time ago. Mike Russell voiced his Government's commitment to the issue back in June during the members' business debate to which I referred, at which time the ball was firmly in his court. The Government has had long enough since then to come up with some detail to back up that commitment.

I cannot stress enough the benefits of using Scottish produce. I repeat my call for the national food policy to take full account of the East Ayrshire project and to roll it out to all schools in Scotland. As a priority, we need to see the Government's detailed plans for achieving the goal of having as much local produce as possible used in our schools, hospitals and prisons. The East Ayrshire project focused on schools, but the delivery mechanisms can be applied to other sections of the public sector. I call on the cabinet secretary to take firm steps towards achieving what he committed to nearly six months ago. I recommend supporting the Liberal Democrat amendment to the motion.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 4:37 pm, 7th November 2007

This has been a good debate: members of all parties have contributed positively and constructively on the food issues that will benefit the health and economy of communities across Scotland.

Members have talked about local food, but the briefing from the Scottish Parliament information centre indicates that there is no commonly accepted definition of local food. Many think that it should refer to food that is produced or processed within 30 miles of the point of sale. I put it on the record that, in the Highlands, 30 miles is nothing. I hope that we can agree a common definition of local food through the debate.

It is a matter of concern that the SPICe briefing confirms that the prices that farmers receive for beef, milk and lamb are below the cost of production. That is hardly an incentive for more local produce. As many members have said, it is recommended that we eat more fruit and vegetables, but they amount to only 1 per cent and 2 per cent respectively of agricultural output. Why should a farmer grow carrots, for example, and be paid £80 a tonne for them when the supermarket price is £700 a tonne? That is nine times more than the farmer gets, and it exemplifies the point Jim Hume made.

If we want to buy more local food, we need more local food to buy; and perhaps we need more incentives to supply—that was not meant to be a poem, but it came out like that.

I commend John Scott's commitment to farmers markets in Scotland. I understand that he is now the president of the Scottish Association of Farmers Markets. I also understand that he can be found at his stall at the Ayr farmers market on the first Saturday of every month and that he has been there every month since July 1999. Well done, John!

There are farmers markets in many Highland towns. The farmers market in Inverness runs once a month. That is excellent, but it is not enough. We need more farmers co-operatives and local outlets that are open every day, not just once a month. More needs to be done to ensure that there is honest food labelling, less red tape and more procurement of local food by public agencies.

There is no doubt that the big four supermarkets are dominant. Supermarkets make it easy for customers to park and shop, and they supply everything under one roof, which suits many people, given their way of life. It is difficult to buy local food, because we have to be sure of getting to the farmers market on the day when it is running. Even when we visit small local shops throughout the Highlands and Islands, it is not easy to buy local produce. Health food and organic food outlets do not always stock a good range of Scottish produce. I know that because I have not shopped in one of the big four supermarkets since May; it has been a good exercise in finding out about the difficulty of local shopping and buying local produce.

Instead of constantly blaming the supermarkets, we should focus on getting more local produce into local shops so that we can ensure that they have a year-round supply of locally produced food. As the cabinet secretary knows, an excellent campaign supported local shops in Moray. That approach could be extended to support the supply of local produce in local shops. Clear signage could show that small local shops stock a range of local products. Such an approach would bring the benefits that members have talked about and it would help to retain local shops in many remote and rural areas.

I commend the work of the Highlands and Islands local food network, which includes consumers, farmers, crofters and community groups, who work together to ensure that more fresh, locally grown food is available. As members have said, food halls in agricultural shows have grown enormously in recent years. The cabinet secretary and Rob Gibson attended the event at Cawdor estates, which brought together local producers of organic food. I understand that the event, which was excellent, will be held annually.

Food labelling appears to be unduly complex. Tesco—I can mention it because I live in the Tesco capital of the UK—gives the percentage of the guideline daily amount of calories, sugar, fats and saturates, whereas the Food Standards Agency's traffic-light labelling system gives the number of grams of fat, for example, but does not indicate the recommended daily amount. A consumer will therefore know how much sugar, for example, is in their food, but they will not know whether that amount is too much or not enough. Ministers could consider how to bring the two systems together, to simplify labelling and to make it easier for consumers to understand.

I commend John Scott—again—and the Scottish Conservatives' vigorous campaign to promote local food, which we ran during the summer. There is no doubt that local food is greener and healthier, or that it supports local jobs. It helps to restore trust in food production, which is important. Given my experience during the past six months, I can vouch for the fact that locally produced food tastes better.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour 4:43 pm, 7th November 2007

Like other members, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. It is clear that we need a joined-up strategy for the whole of Scotland.

We need a cradle-to-grave outlook on how we deal with food in Scotland, starting with consideration of why some of our poorest communities have the worst breastfeeding rates in Scotland. We must consider the healthy weaning initiative that is going on in parts of my constituency. It encourages young—and not-so-young—mums to prepare and cook food for their babies using local food, so that their babies can be weaned on to natural produce.

Measures such as the health-promoting nursery award scheme are beginning to change eating habits through the serving of healthy food, including healthy snacks, and that is being carried on into our primary schools with free fruit and water and the hungry for success programme, to which Sarah Boyack referred. We are changing eating habits in our youngest children. My two boys enjoy their time at nursery and school, but it is also important to allow them to grow food and to cook for themselves. That will make them more likely to try things for themselves.

How can we encourage the production of home-grown food? All homes are capable of growing some produce, whether in window boxes or in gardens. Given the benefits, how do we take that forward?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I have a suggestion: local councils and the Government should give much more support to allotments.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

The point is a fair one. Sarah Boyack is very keen for that to happen. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will want to discuss it further.

I appreciate the comments that Mike Rumbles made about European procurement rules, but the East Ayrshire pilot has shown that local food sourcing can be done. The issue now for Government, both local and national, is to make it happen across the country.

This is a whole-life issue. Many parents in Scotland now lead incredibly busy lives, and ready meals, takeaways and fast food are the easy option. Many of us have lost the skill of cooking—I speak for myself. When we come home from work at 7 o'clock at night, the last thing we want to do is start from scratch to make a meal for our family. Sometimes, we go for the easy option.

I am keen to hear from the cabinet secretary and the minister how our national food policy will encourage busy families to use more fresh produce—and how our Scottish chefs can be used to create quick meal recipes in the way that Nigella Lawson has done, most recently with her "Nigella Express" cookbook. Our Scottish chefs could do something like that. I am sure that Scotland can do better than Nigella.

Our older people deserve the best, too. The food in our care homes and that provided by meals-on-wheels services and home helps must be nutritious. Similarly, we must continue to improve the nutritional standards of the food that is made available to patients in hospitals. I ask the minister to say how that can, and will, be done, particularly in our hospitals.

Very high-quality produce is available in Scotland. Yesterday, I attended the launch of a new awareness-raising campaign all about oats. The aim is to encourage people to take more oats as part of a healthy and balanced diet. The Scottish Crop Research Institute recently carried out research into oats with funding from the previous Executive. It found that the simple oat—the simply Scottish oat—can reduce blood cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Oats contain soluble and insoluble fibre that support probiotic bacteria and thus influence gastrointestinal health, they are a low glycemic index food and they contain vitamins A, C and E. One of their active ingredients is glucose, which helps to blunt post-meal blood glucose levels, which, in turn, makes them good for sufferers of type 2 diabetes.

We look forward to the positive announcement for Scotland—we hope to hear it on Friday—of the securing of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. The games present us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to link up all parts of government—whether it has to do with health, nutrition or sport—to ensure that our athletes eat the best produce and that they are used as positive role models for our young people. They can encourage our young people to be part of the healthy living agenda that we are all so keen to take forward.

If we are serious about local, and even national, food policy, part of the agenda has to be local processing of food products. The recent foot-and-mouth disease outbreak has shown how vulnerable our food sources are. There will be more challenges in future, partly as a result of climate change.

One issue that is repeatedly raised is the lack of access to local abattoir and finishing facilities, and the lack of local food-processing plants. The Scottish Crofting Foundation is keen for development in this area and the Transport and General Workers Union, which is now part of the Unite union, has done valuable work on the economic benefits that could be captured locally if more such facilities were available. There would be the local employment benefits of decent jobs, and they would help to secure the viability of some of our rural communities. More incoming investment being retained locally would also help to secure the future of our rural communities and small towns.

The Scottish Government could act on structural issues in the farming and crofting industries to assist in promoting affordable food and increasing farmers' capacity to work together to secure contracts. I welcome the comments from Conservative members on farmers co-operatives. I am sure that all members want to work with the Government to make progress on that. I have a good example of such a co-operative in my constituency: local lamb producers have come together to produce lamb and make it available to the market.

We must continue to address transparency. I am sure that all members were disappointed to receive last week's news release from the NFUS that showed that lamb prices in supermarkets are higher than they were before the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, but that the prices to farmers have gone through the floor. Transparency on that is essential. Why is the consumer paying more when those who produce, process and finish are being paid less by the supermarkets? We must have transparency.

I support the comments that Sarah Boyack and Mike Rumbles made about fair trade. I have seen at first hand the impact that fair trade has on farmers in Malawi. People who live on less than a dollar a day can now get a fair price for the goods that they produce, with a price that is fair to the consumer here. We cannot live in isolation, but those with whom we trade must be treated fairly. I commend to the Parliament the Labour amendment and look forward to supporting the other amendments and the motion.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party 4:52 pm, 7th November 2007

I am hugely encouraged by the constructive tone of many of the speeches that have been made, although there were one or two surly exceptions; the debate has been a reassurance that we are on the right track. Members recognise that what is new is the bringing together of all the relevant aspects throughout Government into a national food policy that will establish the direction of travel for the entire food supply chain in Scotland.

I will respond to some of the points that have been made during the debate and say a little about how we will progress from here. All the amendments—which we have indicated we will accept—make specific points about the procurement of food in the public sector, and many members have reiterated those points. I acknowledge that fresh, healthy and quality food should be the norm in our schools, hospitals and other public sector outlets and that Scottish producers, suppliers and processors should be encouraged to bid for public sector contracts. We must consider how we can encourage and support that. We must also understand better why those businesses are not bidding at present and what needs to be done to support them in competitive bidding for contracts. Rob Gibson hit on an important issue when he talked about the distribution problems that emerge. That is another issue that we must consider.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Will the minister consider taking up my suggestion of issuing guidance to—or helping—local authorities and others on how best to achieve local procurement yet stay within EU legislation?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Yes, we will. The guidance dates back to 2004, so it needs to be refreshed. We are considering that as part of the strategy. As well as supporting small and local businesses in bidding for contracts, we must consider how public bodies procure food. We must get the two parts of the equation right.

In areas of high food production, the chance of local suppliers becoming involved in bidding for contracts can be greater. For example, in Tayside, where local production is varied and high, it so happens that about 28 per cent of produce in the public sector is supplied from the locality—but, as several members have mentioned, that does not translate to all parts of Scotland. We must work on that and improve it.

The debate has highlighted the impact that the food sector can have on the economy. We are not starting from zero on food and health—there is the good work of hungry for success, which Sarah Boyack and others mentioned. As Mary Scanlon said, the review of the Scottish diet action plan shows that we are making progress in some areas but not in others. The review outlines several key themes, including the need to focus on closer integration between policy goals; to deliver on equality; to re-establish the grounds for engagement with the food industry; and to develop leadership to drive forward change.

Whether we are environmentalists, food producers, processors or consumers, it is clear that food and food-related issues impact on us all. We need to be clear about when local food is healthier. We want to support Scottish food producers to maximise profit, but we also need to take into account our natural resources and the health of our future generations. We need a national food policy that integrates long-term and short-term thinking, and we need to tackle key areas that require action now.

One of the key issues for me as Minister for Public Health is Scotland's high level of obesity, which is second only to that of the USA. As many members have said, obesity is linked to increases in several serious chronic diseases, which is why we are making tackling the problem of obesity a high priority. We already support a wide range of actions that will contribute to people achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through diet and physical activity, particularly in children's early years. Elaine Smith pointed out the importance of early palates and free school meals, and of getting those good habits in at an early stage. Where the health benefits are clear, we need to harness opportunities to support home-grown products that help our health, such as the important soft fruit industry in Tayside and elsewhere.

Other action includes the Scottish Grocers Federation's healthy living programme and Community Food and Health (Scotland), which helps people who live in the most deprived and rural areas to get better access to healthier food choices—an issue that Sarah Boyack and others raised. There is the healthy living campaign, which promotes awareness of a healthier diet and encourages people to choose healthier food options; the healthyliving award, which markets the preparation and provision of healthier foods in the catering sector; and the development for the rest of the public sector of the nutritional standards that already exist in schools and prisons. Several members mentioned hospitals. Draft standards for food and nutrition in hospitals are out for consultation. I encourage members to have a look at them, because they are an important step forward.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Is the minister aware of recent research that shows quite conclusively that a range of fruit and vegetables that are grown organically are more nutritious than their competitors? Will the Government take note of that as it develops its policy?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

The Food Standards Agency is considering the issue of organic produce—we welcome that.

We want more products that meet the high nutritional standards in our schools, hospitals and throughout the wider public sector. We should recognise the good progress that the Food Standards Agency is making, but we want to do more, for example on maternal and infant nutrition. Members have mentioned that. We will return with announcements on specific actions that we will take on the treatment of obesity, which should dovetail with our national food policy.

There is growing interest in the origin of our food and in ethical and environmental issues. As several members said, we must take fair trade into account and build it into our policy. Of course, consumers still base purchase decisions on price. We need to ensure that nutritious, home-grown food extends beyond niche high-value markets and is available and affordable to all our communities. Local authorities have a key role to play in helping to create healthier environments and encouraging a healthier range of choices. They need to use the powers at their disposal to do that.

Jamie Stone and others mentioned cooking skills, which are important. It was also important to have the skills of our Scottish chefs highlighted by Karen Gillon.

We recognise that the debate has captured members' imaginations; we now want to take that forward to the whole of Scotland and gather views so that we can ensure that the policy that we develop has everybody's support. I assure Mike Rumbles that it will be very much about the action that follows that policy development. We will take that forward as a priority. I am sure that he will be pleased to hear that.