Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 16th September 2010.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 2:15 pm, 16th September 2010

The next item of business is a debate on celebrating the growth of Scottish food and drink fortnight. I call Richard Lochhead to open the debate.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 2:56 pm, 16th September 2010

Today is a special day for Scotland, and positive images of our nation are being beamed around the world, no doubt, as we speak. Today is also about celebrating an industry that helps to put Scotland on the map internationally. We have been celebrating that industry for these two weeks.

It has been almost three years since the Parliament unanimously agreed with the Scottish Government the need to develop a national food and drink policy. At that time, I said that a food revolution was taking place the length and breadth of Scotland and that we wanted to support and accelerate it. Today's debate celebrates the fact that that food revolution continues, thanks to the work of the industry, the Scottish Government and its agencies, the people of Scotland and consumers.

Our food and drink are a national strength and, as we focus on economic recovery, they have a big role to play in the nation's economic success. The debate takes place during food and drink fortnight and is intended to highlight the important role that that celebration plays. This is also Scotland's year of food and drink, during which, as a nation, we are celebrating the wealth of produce that is on offer from Scotland's larder.

Almost two weeks ago, I had the honour to launch the eighth food and drink fortnight at the Dundee food and flower festival. Every year, the fortnight gets bigger and more successful, and we should all applaud its aims. It encourages us to discover, buy and enjoy the food and drink that are produced on our own doorstep; it supports the people who make the great products that we enjoy; and it challenges restaurants, caterers and suppliers throughout Scotland to source and champion quality Scottish produce. The fortnight helps to build Scotland's reputation for excellent quality food and drink.

At the launch in Dundee, I was impressed by the range of products on offer, with award-winning products such as venison salami from the Deeside smokery and fruit wines from Cairn O'Mohr. This year witnesses the biggest food and drink fortnight yet. More than 130 events have been taking place the length and breadth of Scotland, which is a substantial increase of 30 per cent from last year. The event has come a long way since it was started, in 2003, by the Scottish Countryside Alliance Educational Trust. I am sure we all applaud the trust for its vision and commitment, which has got us where we are today.

Over the years, the event grew until it became a national showcase for food and then drink, which was formally included for the first time last year. So, this is the right time for it to be handed over to the new organisers, Scotland Food & Drink. Scotland Food & Drink is the organisation that is charged with building even more success for this fantastic industry. As part of Scotland's year of food and drink, EventScotland has helped some of the events that have taken place, including Dundee flower and food festival and eatBute, to make even better use of fresh, seasonal produce.

We are not the only ones who are saying that our larder is fantastic. The International Culinary Tourism Association recently declared Scotland one of the most

"unique, memorable and interesting places" for food and drink on the whole planet.

That study reaffirms what many of us here already know: Scotland is a land that is rich in primary produce and represents quality.

The interest in quality, healthy, sustainable and local produce has never been greater. It is remarkable to witness communities not only celebrating the larder on their doorsteps but linking in our food and drink industry and the provenance of our produce with local economic development and environmental sustainability.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to launch the Cairngorms food for life development plan, which aims to increase the production and consumption of local food, and to expand the national park's food economy through business growth and new business development while reducing its carbon footprint. As I hope members will agree, that is a great idea that will help local businesses, forge a stronger link between food and tourism and help our environment.

At the weekend I was delighted to attend eatBute, which is an event that very much forms part of the island's future and links food producers with tourism and job creation. When I returned home to Elgin, I was able to enjoy a fantastic Saturday evening meal comprised solely of ingredients that were produced on Bute and which I had bought earlier that day.

There is a buzz right round Scotland about this great natural asset that we have. The selection of the best of Scotland's produce that is on offer at all the events during the food and drink fortnight is testament to that.

The economic impact is being felt not just locally, in many of the communities that I have mentioned, but nationally, too. The buzz is supported by some impressive sales figures, which show that we are punching above our weight in the recent economic climate. Members should listen closely: retail sales of Scottish brands across these islands have increased by a fantastic 30 per cent over the past three years.

The saltire is increasingly associated with quality, and consumers are now looking for it on supermarket shelves and elsewhere more than ever before—and not just on these islands. Last year, there was a record increase in Scottish food and drink exports, with international sales reaching an all-time high of more than £4 billion.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

The cabinet secretary will be pleased to know that I was listening closely. He just said that there was an all-time high in international export sales of £4 billion, yet his document, "Recipe for Success—Scotland's National Food and Drink Policy", states:

"Overseas food and drink exports ... are worth £5 billion a year."

Which figure is correct?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

There are of course different figures: there are figures for the value of what has been exported, and figures for the value to the Scottish economy. That accounts for some of the different figures that members may see in relation to the subject. The value of exports from Scotland overseas has now reached a record £4 billion.

More produce is being sold by producers directly to consumers. Nearly a third of shoppers say that they specifically purchased locally produced food during February 2010, which is double the number that did so in 2006. That is vital to the success of many of our more fragile rural economies.

Farmers markets are a critical element of rural life, connecting farmers with consumers in a unique and profitable way. The Scottish Government recently gave £200,000 to support farmers markets in Scotland, and we will, I hope, see many more of them flourishing throughout the country.

Those figures illustrate very well the surge in year-round consumer demand for Scottish produce, but we should not rest on our laurels and take all that good news for granted. That is why the Government and all our agencies continue to support our businesses and engage with the consumer wherever we can.

We have worked tirelessly over the past three years to support the sustainable growth of our food and drink sector. Our actions, through the development and implementation of Scotland's first ever national food and drink policy, have ensured that we have adopted a clear, consistent and coherent approach for a healthier, wealthier, fairer and greener Scotland.

It is an approach that has met with international recognition. The European Commission has been impressed by the holistic nature of the policy, and we have had contact from countries as far away as Japan and Australia that are interested in what we are doing here. Only a few weeks ago, a Canadian member of Parliament with an interest in the subject took time out from the Edinburgh festival to meet our leadership forum, which is a group of sectoral experts who oversee policy delivery in Scotland. She was able to witness at first hand the great work that is being done, and she is now considering how to transfer our approach and apply it to the development of a similar policy in Canada.

A successful business environment is key to our policy, and will help Scotland Food & Drink in our shared goal to grow our industry from £7.5 billion to £12.5 billion by 2017. We really need to support all these businesses. Since May 2007, the Government has supported 126 food and drink businesses with £25 million-worth of assistance through our food grant schemes.

I know that many members take a close interest in public procurement, which also has a significant role to play for our businesses. That is why Robin Gourlay from East Ayrshire Council has been seconded to the Scottish Government. He is working on making it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to enter public procurement contracts. As many people know, Robin is a world-recognised expert on school food procurement. Indeed, we have seen East Ayrshire Council quoted and mentioned in a number of United Nations reports in recent months. Robin Gourlay has already delivered a guide that demystifies the procurement process for SMEs and he is hard at work on revising our sustainable procurement guidance.

There is evidence of increasing interest from SMEs in public contracts. For example, there were 18 expressions of interest in the national health service milk contract, whereas last time there was only one, so we can see that great progress is already being made. For companies to win such contracts, it is essential that they have efficient and effective supply chains. We are helping them with that as well. The Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society's cultivating collaboration—or C2—project is already reaping rewards. Some 180 companies and 65 organisations have participated in the project, which has the Government's backing, and SAOS is working with 39 supply chains ranging from micro-scale SMEs to large businesses. We want to make it easier for producers to get the big contracts with the supermarkets, food service companies and so on. That is important work.

We need to ensure that the best skills are available to businesses to support their work. That is why we have funded 600 modern apprenticeships in food and drink over the past year, compared with only 15 the year before.

Those are positive and specific outcomes, but we can support the industry in many other ways. I enjoyed the opportunity to visit a number of companies and producers during this summer's Cabinet tour. The Cabinet hosted a number of receptions at which we celebrated the year of food and drink and met many people and businesses who are involved in producing the great food and drink that we have in Scotland.

Given that we have fantastic Scottish ingredients, I am sure that many of us continue to be frustrated by not knowing what is on our plates when we are at a hotel, restaurant or whatever. That is why the Government launched a provenance resource to help caterers and restaurants with practical ways to raise the profile of local food with consumers. The provenance on a plate toolkit has generated increased sales of fresh, seasonal produce, raised consumer awareness of local produce, and built stronger links with local food suppliers. It is important that tourists and people who live in Scotland know what is on their plates when they eat out, and that the people who serve up the food go to the effort of letting people know when the food is local and the provenance and the story behind it. That is what the initiative is all about. It will play a part in helping to aid understanding of what it means to buy Scottish.

I hope, as I am sure many other members do, that Europe takes the opportunity to support our stance when it legislates on labelling, which we hope will be as soon as possible. We continue to press our European and indeed our United Kingdom colleagues for a quick resolution to the labelling issue. I hope that progress is being made on that in Brussels.

Scottish food and drink fortnight's continued growth and success in celebrating our wonderful produce serves only to enhance Scotland's reputation as a land of food and drink and to deliver many economic benefits throughout that important industry and the rest of Scotland. I ask everyone in the chamber today to join together in celebrating Scottish food and drink fortnight, celebrating Scotland's fantastic image for top-quality food and drink, and of course celebrating the important industry that takes our fabulous raw materials, adds value and gives us all that economic success.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 3:09 pm, 16th September 2010

The debate coincides with the second week of Scottish food and drink fortnight. It might be that I am being cynical, but I suspect that it was scheduled for this afternoon to allow members away to celebrate the Pope's visit to Scotland. It appears that rural affairs and environment debates are often scheduled when many members want to be away.

Food and drink is and has been for many years one of Scotland's key sectors. However, like Gavin Brown, I am slightly confused about the figures. According to the Scottish Enterprise website, 122,000 people are employed in the food and drink processing sector throughout Scotland, which generates £7.57 billion in sales, but the Scottish Government press release this month quoted £9 billion in turnover and 369,000 people in the supply chain. As Gavin Brown pointed out, there seems to be some discrepancy as to whether the revenue that is generated by the sector is £4 billion or £5 billion. Whatever the figures are, there is no disagreement about the sector's importance, especially in rural areas, in which the largest private sector employers are often in food production and processing. That is the case in my constituency.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, Jim Mather, announced that 2010-11 had been designated Scotland's year of food and drink. That followed the year of homecoming. In light of recent evidence that suggests that the success of the year of homecoming may have been exaggerated, I hope that the success of the year of food and drink will not need to be exaggerated.

It is, of course, tempting to use such a debate to recite the many successes of the Scottish food and drink industry and to use local exemplars as illustrations in it. I am keen to draw members' attention to the savour the flavours fortnight in Dumfries and Galloway, which is a new event in the region. The region's food and drink are celebrated in it and local people and visitors are encouraged to enjoy locally produced food. The event aims to promote farmers and producers markets, encourage local hotels and restaurants to use local produce, let residents know where they can purchase locally produced food, and educate children about healthy eating. In July last year, savour the flavours was awarded LEADER funding for two years. The aim was to develop a dynamic business base, and increased awareness and enjoyment of local food.

It is useful to consider more generally how a food and drink strategy can interact with and support other policy areas, and to reflect on how synergies can be improved and whether there are contradictions that need to be resolved. An internationally recognised reputation for quality and excellence in the food and drink sector will increase its contribution to the economy. Such a reputation will assist Scottish companies to expand their markets outside Scotland and contribute to our tourist offering, especially where there are partnerships between providers that support and promote each other.

Despite the quality of our local produce, many Scots still have an inferior diet. Scotland's obesity levels are among the world's highest. More than a million adults and 150,000 Scottish children are obese—that is, their body mass index is 30 or more. Two out of three Scottish adults are either overweight or obese. Scots on low incomes suffer disproportionately from obesity and poor diets. To misquote Susie Orbach, fat is a social justice issue.

Our obesity record is not something to be proud of. Apart from anything else, it is hardly an international advert for our food and drink. Surely our ability to produce excellent local food should be able to help to address that problem. In some cases, regulation could help. I was disappointed, for example, that my colleague Richard Simpson's proposed bill to ban trans fats did not receive sufficient cross-party support to progress to parliamentary consideration. I am not suggesting that we should ban buy-one-get-one-free offers, large helpings or anything of that sort, but I wonder whether the Government could help by working with retailers and supermarkets to encourage people to eat less, but better.

If I recall correctly, it was Christopher Harvie who, in a previous debate, described the lack of provision for single people in supermarkets. Most products are sold in pre-wrapped quantities that are aimed at family purchase. Purchasing food in quantities that are larger than are required encourages both overeating and waste. If retailers could be persuaded to sell produce in smaller quantities, purchasers could decide whether to buy smaller amounts of higher-quality products or larger proportions of cheaper products for a similar financial outlay. I know that work on obesity is being done through the recipe for success strategy, but I am interested in whether that issue has been discussed in the Government's grocery retailers forum.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

Does the member agree that, to encourage people to exercise and eat better, they should be encouraged to have more allotments, or councils should be encouraged to provide more allotments?

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I will come on to that later in my speech.

The issue of labelling is related to what I have been talking about. Purchasers need to be confident that they are actually buying locally produced food when they think that they are doing so. Members have discussed in the chamber and in the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee how producers ought to benefit from the higher animal welfare standards that operate in this country. We have previously looked at pig meat production problems, but a similar situation could be arising with eggs post 2012. Consumers need clear information about nutritional content, product origin, and animal and environmental welfare.

As we are all aware, eating behaviour patterns are established in childhood and they can be hard to break later on in life, although adults tend to be more adventurous than children in trying new foods. Children need to get the chance to enjoy good locally produced food and to understand where and how it is produced. Sadly, healthy eating initiatives in Scottish schools appear to have gone disastrously wrong, although I do not blame the current Government alone for that.

Only a quarter of secondary school pupils in Dumfries and Galloway take school meals. Uptake has been falling for some time, but I am afraid that it was not helped by the Scottish Government's draconian guidance in 2008, which advised, for example, that condiments such as tomato sauce or salad dressing should not be displayed and should be sold only on request. I had a school meal in a secondary school in my constituency where the salad was bits of lettuce and tomato neat, with no dressing. All that did was to remind me why I did not like salad when I was a child. Serving pupils of secondary school age in particular with bland, tasteless food just sends them off to the nearest fast-food outlet in town. We need to strike the right balance by offering nutritious, tasty food, locally produced where possible.

On that note, I would be interested to know what progress is being made in the procurement of local produce, particularly in the public sector, where there is more direct control. Such procurement does not just support local producers, but cuts down food miles and helps to reduce carbon emissions. I know that there is an online portal—public contracts Scotland—that was established to try to assist with that. Are recent figures available on whether locally sourced food and its use are increasing across the public sector? I was encouraged last week by reports of the progress that has been made by Scottish agriculture in reducing carbon emissions by 22 per cent over the past 20 years while production has remained stable or increased. Agriculture and food production in Scotland still make a significant contribution to our carbon emissions, but it looks like they are going in the right direction with the commitment to maintain momentum.

Finally—this addresses Sandra White's point—there is a huge interest among the public in Scotland in growing their own food. A briefing that was given out at the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society reception last night stated that almost 6,000 people are on the waiting lists for local authority allotments, of which there are around 7,000 in Scotland. Sixty new groups are also looking for land and support. With such demand for allotments and community gardens, we need to find innovative ways of freeing up land for cultivation by the public. I was interested to hear from the environment minister last night that housing associations and others are now getting involved in making land available. Other landowners, such as farmers, might also be able to get involved in enabling expansion to meet that demand. It is well known that involving young children in growing food helps to engage their interest in healthy eating and in trying foods that they would not normally like, such as vegetables. Some schools are able to incorporate that into their eco schools programmes and some of the schools in my constituency do so. However, not every school has the land to be able to do that. Allotments and community gardens, particularly in urban areas, could play an important role in the eco school programme as well as in outdoor learning.

We on the Labour back benches are happy to join in the celebration of the growth of the Scottish food and drink fortnight and to wish the year of food and drink every success, but we need to recognise that a food and drink strategy has to be long term and inherently linked to other strategies and priorities.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 3:18 pm, 16th September 2010

I declare an interest as a farmer, a food producer and a past chairman of the Scottish Association of Farmers Markets, as well as a member of the Ayrshire food network.

I welcome the debate, which comes at a time when food production and agriculture, apart from dairy farming, are experiencing a bit of an upturn. However, it is a different story for our fishermen who are facing threats from Iceland and the Faroes in the pelagic sector as well as reduced quotas, days at sea and rising costs in the demersal sector.

That said, today's debate is about celebrating Scottish food and drink fortnight, which was launched by the Scottish Countryside Alliance in 2007. There is much to celebrate this year with over 130 events taking place. Some key facts—for example that our food and drink sector generates £9.5 billion annually, making it the largest business sector by far in Scotland—are to be applauded. Our food and drink supply chain employs more than 360,000 people in Scotland and we export more than £800 million of food annually. That is dwarfed by our drinks industry, particularly our whisky industry, which exports more than £3 billion worldwide—our congratulations go to it. Fish and shellfish exports provide 55 per cent of our food exports and the sector is also to be applauded for growing that market over recent years.

Further, it is important to note that of the 75,000 businesses involved in the food supply chain, over three quarters employ fewer than 10 people and therefore have the potential and capacity to grow. Skills development organisations, such as Lantra, and our colleges must be congratulated and supported in the future. As we fight our way through Labour's recession—I apologise to Elaine Murray—our future recovery will undoubtedly come from small businesses such as those, which is why we must do all we can to support them. Food networks, farm shops and farmers markets will be vital building platforms in the future, particularly in developing public procurement contracts, which, notwithstanding the minister's enthusiasm, is not happening as quickly as it should. Perhaps Robin Gourlay's secondment to the Government will help in that regard.

What does all that mean? First, I know that all politicians of all parties say this, but we must start cutting back on regulation and red tape. Every year our Parliaments in Edinburgh, Westminster and Brussels push out more legislation. Businesses, especially small businesses, are being overwhelmed by the tsunami of regulation and forms that keep coming into their in-boxes. Of course Parliaments exist to create legislation, but we also have a duty of care to the recipients of the legislation that we produce, given the cost that goes with it, and we must reflect on the cumulative disincentive that it creates to starting and maintaining new businesses. Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Scotland at present; we must address the lack of business start-ups.

However, we also have to remember that food production is a function of nature. This year's massive reduction in the worldwide wheat harvest is another wake-up call in terms of what the future holds and the dangers of food insecurity if we do not maintain and support primary production here in Scotland, in the UK and, particularly, in Europe.

Alyn Smith MEP raised that important point in last week's edition of The Scottish Farmer. I welcome him to the cause of trying to change mindsets in the European Commission and getting our officials in Brussels to realise that food security is a real and emerging problem that must be factored into reform of the common agricultural policy in 2013.

I turn to food production itself. Input costs, such as fuel and fertiliser costs, are rising dramatically for our terrestrial and marine food-producing industries. That in turn might lead to food-price inflation. Indeed, Simon Ward, chief economist at Henderson Global Investors, has already warned that food-price inflation could reach 7 per cent later this year, which could push up the consumer price index to around 4 per cent, which is certainly not to be welcomed.

In this first debate on the subject in the parliamentary year, although we note and applaud the success of Scottish food and drink fortnight, we must not lose sight of the many problems that our food and drink producers face as we move into the next decade of the century.

A sea-fishing industry in decline is a problem that must be confronted now. Livestock and human depopulation of our hills and glens is an unwelcome socioeconomic fact of life, which has environmental consequences as livestock production decreases in our remote and fragile areas. The issue of succession—carrying on family businesses—in the primary industries of agriculture and fishing has not been adequately addressed. There is the potential for that to lead to further long-term decline in food production and harvesting capability.

European support coming to Scotland is reducing as we give back single farm payments in an attempt to stop slipper farming, which cannot be in Scotland's overall best interests. Volatility in food production in world markets is growing—speculators in commodities are exacerbating the problem of shortages when they occur.

Many problems remain to be addressed. Although we welcome and support this debate on the growth of the Scottish food and drink sector on the day of the papal visit to Scotland, difficult years lie ahead if growth is to be maintained and developed. However, Conservatives in Scotland and the UK are prepared for the challenge and will work constructively with all parties and stakeholders to chart the best way forward.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 3:24 pm, 16th September 2010

I also declare a farming interest.

It is a pleasure to take part in a debate on a subject about which I am passionate. I had an interest in it before I started my parliamentary career and I have continued that interest. I secured a members' business debate on local food way back in June 2007 and I am now one of the conveners of the cross-party group on food.

One would be hard-pressed to dine in a top restaurant in some of the world's biggest cities and not find some form of Scottish produce on the menu. A fine example of quality exported Scottish produce can be found at Peelham farm down in Berwickshire, which does not sell sand to the Arabs but does sell salami to the Italians. Last year it won the future farmer award. Congratulations must go to Arnold and John Park of Drinkstone near Hawick for winning that accolade this year. The Borders seem to be leading the way again.

Unfortunately, some people are unaware of the world-class produce that is available on their own doorstep. That is why schemes such as the Scottish food and drink fortnight are to be applauded for their scope and ambition in attempting to build on Scotland's outstanding reputation for quality food and drink.

Not only should we be proud of the standard of our food and drink, but we must acknowledge how important the industry is to our economy. Various figures have been quoted, but it is worth around £9.5 billion annually and is responsible for keeping more than 350,000 people in employment, so it is obviously critical to Scotland.

Scotland Food & Drink's vision, which is

"to make Scotland internationally known as 'A Land of Food and Drink'", is a laudable objective, but it is important that we do more to promote ourselves as a land of food and drink closer to home. For some time now, I have campaigned for locally sourced food to be used more widely within the public sector. That is a means not only of promoting our produce and improving our diets, but of helping to boost our economy by creating a sustainable food, drink and agriculture sector in Scotland. That is of great importance in my region, which is the South of Scotland.

I note that the Scottish Government's national food and drink policy, which was published last year, expresses a desire

"to make our public sector a world-wide exemplar of excellent food and drink procurement practice which supports our sustainable economic growth and contributes to a healthier Scotland."

I welcome the Government's commitment to strive towards something that I and my colleagues have advocated for some time. However, I am afraid that although there is some evidence of a trend towards the public sector sourcing more of its food locally, more needs to be done. I have obtained figures through freedom of information requests that highlight the massive disparity that exists among local authorities throughout the country.

Leading the field is East Ayrshire Council, which sources 30 per cent of its food in Ayrshire—of course, Robin Gourlay was involved in that. Part of its success could be attributed to the council's innovative local food pilot scheme, which was met with enormous enthusiasm. However, unfortunately, only 3.5 per cent of North Ayrshire Council's food budget this year will be spent on local produce. That is in stark contrast to neighbouring East Ayrshire Council. Stirling Council spends 28 per cent of its food budget on food that is sourced within a 100-mile radius, but nearby Clackmannanshire Council will spend only 9 per cent this year.

I highlight those statistics not to condemn the councils concerned but to point out the differences that exist between neighbouring councils. Why should such disparities exist when neighbouring authorities could use the same food sources? Perhaps they need to develop shared strategies under which they work co-operatively to source local food produce.

Another success story of recent years is the rise of farmers markets—in which I acknowledge John Scott's involvement. From speaking to constituents in Kelso, Haddington, Hawick and Peebles, where successful markets are thriving, I know how valuable the markets are, not only to farmers but to consumers. Many farmers markets have become tourist attractions in their own right, and 15 of them have been accredited by VisitScotland. They serve as an excellent vehicle not only for promoting local produce but for exposing members of the public to high-quality local produce that they may not necessarily be offered in retail stores. Local authorities, town centre managers and the Government should encourage the continued success and expansion of farmers markets into more Scottish towns, alongside initiatives such as the food and drink fortnight.

We must recognise that we can have such an enviable food and drink sector only as long as we are willing to safeguard our producers. That is why I welcome the comments of my Liberal Democrat colleague Ed Davey—now the UK Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs—who has announced the UK Government's intent to create a supermarket ombudsman to prevent retailers from abusing their considerable power. As such behaviour can lead to less innovation, less choice and lower-quality goods, the creation of a groceries code adjudicator is long overdue: I am sure that all members join me in welcoming its creation.

Scottish food and drink fortnight has been a great success, and I wish it well in promoting our fine foods for the future.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 3:29 pm, 16th September 2010

In this Scottish food and drink fortnight we are given a glimpse—many people need more than a glimpse—of what fantastic food we have in this country. Yesterday the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment was in Mallaig promoting the sale of Scottish langoustines and prawns. Too few people in this country ever see a Scottish langoustine. I am perhaps luckier than most, but that is only because I know fishermen locally. The point is that they could get the same price for selling them to the market at home here if only they could establish a permanent supply chain. I hope that the Government is successful in securing that. The commitments and progress that have been made in the sector have been set out by members in the debate already. We should consider how well bedded in the industry is in various parts of Scotland.

In June I was taking some Canadian friends from Glasgow up to the north. The food in the restaurants in Glasgow and the produce that they saw on sale in the shops was light years different from what it might have been 10 years ago.

Overseas food exports come to £800 million a year, whereas food imports from overseas are £900 million a year. We must ask ourselves when we will be producing more of our own food. As John Scott said, food security is now more of an issue in the markets and in debate.

Other members have mentioned farmers markets, and I wish to highlight the fantastic success of the Perth farmers market. Studies that were carried out by Perth and Kinross Council and Scottish Enterprise Tayside in 2006 showed that, even then, the farmers market generated a direct annual income of £311,000. That was £31 for every £1 of public support. Indeed, £1 spent on the local food generated £2.49 in the local economy, as opposed to £1.40 when that £1 was spent in a supermarket. People are not only getting value for money at farmers markets; they are getting the provenance, too. The farmers market movement has opened the door for so many people to see our terrific produce.

There are large numbers of small firms involved in the industry. One of them was highlighted yesterday, and I know it particularly well. Connage Highland Dairy near Inverness produces organic cheese—which we were able to sample in our canteen. It is now on sale in Harrods, although it is also available at very reasonable prices locally in our area and elsewhere. It is an ideal example to highlight during what is also organic food fortnight, which is run by the Soil Association. The Soil Association's awards throughout the UK have thrown up a lot of interesting examples. I declare an interest as a member of the Soil Association and of the Scottish Crofting Federation. I will come back to that area in a minute. The beer and cider winner at the awards was the Black Isle Brewery's Yellowhammer, a beer that is produced very close to where I live. It won against competition from various contestants from throughout the UK.

I draw members' attention to an event that is coming up in Parliament on 10 November called crofting connections. Dozens of schoolchildren and many croft food producers are coming to Parliament to show us what crofting connections is doing. It involves 1,200 young people between the ages of five and 16 who live in remote rural communities throughout the Highlands and Islands. We will get a selection of the youngsters to come into Parliament, together with producers from the crofting areas, and they will show their wares. I hope that members will all get invitations and come along.

That reminds us that there were communal ways of working the land in the past. The communal ways of selling food now, through co-operatives, provides the modern way to conduct that kind of collective activity. Such events show schoolchildren both traditional and contemporary horticulture. It is not just about oats and kale—there is an array of vegetables, all sold by the likes of the Skye & Lochalsh Food Link. It sells fruit, salads, oatcakes, shortbread, vegetables, herbs, meat, seafood, confectionery, preserves, cheese and ice cream. The group, which distributes a range of these products to hotels and shops in the area, sets an example for many such groups elsewhere.

Making, by the way, a Bute connection, I note that in Caithness and Sutherland, where we are trying to turn the economy around, the Duke of Rothesay has backed the Mey Selections brand, which has put the local food and drink industry back in the spotlight and is making a significant contribution to the area's economy. More than 400 food and drink producers contribute and, with one particular product now being sold through a large national supermarket, the brand is starting to get some recognition. By ensuring that many of the products are bought locally, are served in local hotels and so on, we improve not only the whole agricultural process, but food and other produce in our country.

I do not have much more time. Nevertheless, I want to warn Parliament about certain issues that are emerging as a result of people seeking simply to make a profit. First of all, we should not be importing diseased potato seed, problems with which have increased since I asked questions about the matter in June. We should remember that cloning is now governed by European Union rules, and we need to be aware of animal welfare in our attempts to make farming sustainable. Above all, we need to address the issue of labelling to ensure that we protect the natural produce that Scotland can produce and is producing, and that people are aware of the differences between some of the lesser products available and the best of our own larder.

The debate provides an excellent chance to celebrate Scotland's food and drink, but we must take part ourselves by encouraging others to buy Scottish.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 3:36 pm, 16th September 2010

Although, as we know, it is something of a filler, the debate is welcome and so far has been interesting and informative. Jim Hume has even confessed to being passionate, so what more can we ask for?

As I thought about the motion, it occurred to me that consumer behaviour in relation to food has experienced a major shift in the past 10 to 15 years. Consumers have become a bit more discerning about the kind of food that they choose to eat, which has greatly benefited our own Scottish industry. More now than ever, people think about where their food has been sourced and, if it is meat, how it has been raised. Increasing awareness among people in Scotland of what is happening in the third world has ensured a wider commitment to fair-trade issues. A decade ago, only a fraction of consumers would have raised such questions.

The media has a role in promoting the industry and, indeed, has played it in recent years. Not that long ago, cooking programmes were limited to those that were presented by Delia Smith; nowadays, we have everything from "Come Dine With Me" to programmes with Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and a host of others that not only show us how to cook food but to look at how food is sourced and examine the culture around it. Such media exposure has raised awareness of healthy eating and the advantages of using fresh local produce, and has played a role in educating our young people.

At local authority level, education and catering departments have in the Parliament's lifetime placed more emphasis on healthy eating, five-a-day campaigns and so on. Without a doubt, we are all better informed about the value of healthy eating and local produce.

Coming from Ayrshire, I know all too well the importance of locally sourced food. One of the signs of summer approaching is the appearance in the shops of new Ayrshire potatoes, which year in, year out are hugely popular. The island of Arran has also developed a niche industry around cheese, oatcakes and jam, to say nothing of the increasing awareness of Arran beer and whisky.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

The member referred to Labour-controlled North Ayrshire Council. I discovered through an FOI request that, unfortunately, it sources only 3.5 per cent of its food locally, while East Ayrshire Council manages to source 30 per cent. Was the member aware of that?

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I mentioned Ayrshire in general, but I am happy to take on board Jim Hume's point. I noted the statistics that he described in his speech and I am certainly happy to question North Ayrshire Council on them. We all recognise the value and importance of local produce.

That brings me to a further point about Ayrshire. I am pleased to advise Parliament that the town of Kilwinning—Tom Shields occasionally calls it the great burgh of culture—in my constituency was last week given the go-ahead to host a farmers market, which I look forward to visiting in the not-too-distant future. By giving people access to high-quality fresh food through working in partnership with supermarkets or through schemes such as farmers markets, local producers have more chance of getting their produce from the farm to the table.

I will say a few words about animal welfare, which Rob Gibson mentioned briefly. Education about food is a key element of increasing the popularity of Scottish produce. For the most part, we in Scotland have a good record on animal welfare. However, we cannot be complacent. Last year, the Scottish Government advised me that foie gras had been served at official functions. Thankfully, that has now been taken off the menu. Perhaps the minister will confirm that. I am a vegetarian, but I think that most people who eat meat like to think that animals have been reared humanely and have not lived in torture before being slaughtered for food.

I was pleased to read about the Farm Animal Welfare Council's new approach, which involves promoting the assessment of animal welfare and moving away from the five freedoms. The five freedoms played an important role, but they took a negative approach to animal welfare by promoting freedom from hunger and thirst and freedom from discomfort. The council says now that the question is not whether animals suffer but whether they have a life that is worth living. That creates a positive focus that will increasingly ensure not just that animals are not mistreated but that they have a good quality of life. That shift in perspective is welcome and will make our animal welfare standards even stronger.

I am running out of time, but I echo other members' words about labelling, which has been a positive development. Labelling on welfare provenance should be promoted. I think that consumers would agree that they want more information with which they can make informed choices.

Continuing to embrace change—whether through better animal welfare, improved labelling or even meeting the challenges of the common agricultural policy, which I did not have the chance to discuss in detail—will not only benefit consumers but will make the Scottish industry a positive example of best practice.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 3:43 pm, 16th September 2010

I am extremely pleased to speak in this important debate on Scottish food and drink fortnight and I will not exhibit the slightest cynicism, which I have detected in earlier speeches.

Scotland is—rightly—world famous for the quality of our whisky, but for far too many years Scotland has tended to keep secret the fantastic quality of the food that we produce. It is sad that, although most of the world has heard about our alleged penchant for deep-fried Mars bars or greasy fish suppers—I share Elaine Murray's concern about the links between poor diet, obesity, low income and health—the world knows less about the top-class quality of our beef, lamb, venison, salmon and cheese and about our fine fruit and vegetables. That is not to mention Loch Fyne kippers, Arbroath smokies and even the humble haggis, which is the butt of many jokes but makes the finest of winter meals, as long as it is served with neeps and tatties.

However, things are changing. We have heard that food and drink fortnight is going from strength to strength. The 130 events this year represent a 30 per cent growth since 2009. That growth is helping us to reach our target of making the Scottish food and drink industry worth £12.5 billion by 2017. Scottish Development International now provides a portfolio of international support to assist Scottish food and drink companies in exploiting international trade opportunities, first in North America and Europe, but later through extended services much further afield. Things are going well.

However, it is important not to become too complacent. Study of other industries shows us that export success often needs sound home performance as a firm base. Here in Scotland, the picture is a little patchy. At the top end of the market, we are becoming well served with outlets such as Andrew Fairlie's restaurant at Gleneagles and the growing collection of first-class restaurants along the waterfront at Leith, which provide a dining experience that can match that of anywhere else in the world.

Too often, we are let down by our middle-range restaurants. The great natural food that we have available tastes marvellous with simple but careful preparation, yet so often in Scotland, when one goes out for a meal, the food is overcooked or even has the provenance of the cash-and-carry ready foods section, rather than the river, glen or grouse moor. On several occasions and in more than one coastal town, I have had defrosted Norwegian prawns. The food is sometimes presented in less-than-pleasant surroundings. We cannot expect visitors from abroad to go home raving about the quality of our food if we sometimes treat them in that fashion.

I know that things are improving from yesteryear, but they need to improve still further. It would help if some of our countrymen and women did not mistake service for servility. On more occasions than we would like, there are stories of grudging and inadequate service in restaurants and hotels in Scotland. Every aspect of presenting food and drink needs full attention to quality and detail.

Another aspect of the Scottish food scene that disturbs me slightly—my colleague Rob Gibson touched on this—is that we are surrounded by sea on three sides and have some of the best lobsters, prawns, scallops and fresh fish known to man, yet in many areas of the country, including those on the coast, it is sometimes difficult to purchase any of those delights. In the part of the west coast of Scotland that I know fairly well, the catch is transported directly from the fishermen to vans and refrigerated lorries to go to destinations as far away as France and Spain, there to be sold in markets or to grace the tables of restaurants. I appreciate that that is an efficient and rewarding way of selling seafood and that the weakness of the pound makes Scottish seafood good value abroad, but it is a great pity that visitors to coastal areas of Scotland cannot all realise what a treasure we have here.

During the recent recess, I visited the maritime provinces of Canada, where one cannot move for fish restaurants, lobster suppers and signs proclaiming slogans such as, "Digby: the home of the world's best scallops". It is even possible to buy fresh lobsters in Halifax airport to take home, as a reminder of how good they are. If only we could draw attention to our seafood in the same way. However, those are merely observations from a disgruntled foodie who objects to being held to ransom for a simple lobster, if one is available at all.

I salute the Government for the hard work that it does on food and drink. I congratulate the supermarkets on rising to the challenge of buying locally and presenting us with a much greater choice of fine food from Scotland. I particularly congratulate the Scotch whisky manufacturers—although I am not perhaps their favourite MSP at the moment, thanks to my views on minimum unit pricing—on the mammoth sales of whisky that they achieve year in, year out and on the superb quality of the blends and single malts that they produce. If I had a glass of whisky in my hand now, I would raise it and propose a toast to the Scottish food and drink industry and the work that has been done, not only by the present Government, but by the preceding one, to make the most of our fabulous food and drink resources. Instead, alas, water will have to do. Slàinte mhath.

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour 3:49 pm, 16th September 2010

I welcome the Scottish food and drink fortnight and the opportunity that it provides to promote the wealth of produce that is on offer from Scotland's larder. Of course, it is not the only thing that is being promoted. In "Recipe For Success—Scotland's National Food and Drink Policy", I counted no fewer than seven pictures of the cabinet secretary and, sadly, only one of the First Minister. I kindly suggest to Richard Lochhead that, if he wants continued success, he might want to change that ratio when the document is reprinted.

We all know that a vibrant, profitable and healthy food industry in Scotland is vital for our economy. If we are to grow that industry to be worth more than £10 billion by 2017 and build on Scotland's international reputation as a land of food and drink, we need to concentrate on support for the sector to help it grow. As we have heard from other members, the sector is a major employer, providing jobs for more than 300,000 people in companies big and small, scattered throughout Scotland, and plenty of new opportunities are emerging. Statistics show that around 80 per cent of all food and drink businesses in Scotland are family run, and on the processing side the industry has a somewhat older age profile.

The continued long-term success of this vital industry will depend on the quality of the people who are involved in it and the level of skills training that is provided for them. Statistics from Improve, the food and drink sector skills council, show that in workforce development, food and drink manufacturing and processing employers are the most likely to report skills gaps in comparison to all other industries in Scotland. They are also more likely than other Scottish employers to have provided only on-the-job training and less likely to have management accounts. That means that the industry could face some serious challenges in the years ahead. Skills gaps and training are huge issues alongside rising prices and fuel costs.

I know that I am preaching about the need for skills training again, but I make no apology for that. Indeed, I must say to the minister that the question of skills was missing from his speech. I am not a lone voice. The need to increase investment and the impact of education, training, research and technology transfers throughout the sectors were highlighted in the scenario of predicted world food shortages in the UK Cabinet Office report "Food 2030", which was published in January. In a survey conducted by Improve, Scottish employers most frequently cited weakness in oral communication, problem solving, technical and practical skills, planning and organising, and written communication among potential recruits. That can lead to higher operational costs and difficulties in meeting customer service objectives.

Unfortunately, when employers take action to overcome skills gaps, the main response seems to be changing work practices followed by recruitment from outside Scotland. However, there has been progress to reverse those trends. Figures from Improve show a big lift in the number of businesses participating in the modern apprenticeship programme, which the minister mentioned, from about 25 in 2008-09 to more than 600 in 2009-10. The good news is that there should be another 400-plus starts in the following year.

As a side benefit, around 30 per cent of those apprentices have been in the 16 to 19-year-old age group. They have come into the industry due to there being fewer opportunities in the job market and the competition for places at college. As Dr McKee has mentioned, we have to change the attitude of such youngsters and persuade them that a job in the service industry does not mean that they have to be servile to anyone. What they are actually doing is promoting and helping to sell Scotland and its produce to visitors and other customers alike.

Improve believes that businesses have benefited from the flexibility and multiskilling that have resulted from the increase in the modern apprenticeship programme that Labour fought to have included in the past two budgets. What makes a huge difference is the fact that the modern apprenticeship programme can be delivered in the workplace with less impact on day-to-day production requirements—it is a job with training.

The spirit of collaboration in the food and drink industry is to be applauded. Improve has worked with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the city of Glasgow college to review, update and revalidate a new higher national certificate and diploma in food science and technology. That new programme began last month and is an important route into the industry for school leavers. However, too few colleges are supporting the food and drink manufacturing and processing industry, even though, as we have heard from other speakers, it is one of our biggest manufacturing sectors in Scotland and a major exporter.

Another example of the collaboration at the higher level is the new programme entitled the Scottish fellowship in food and drink management. Developed in conjunction with Improve, Scotland Food & Drink, the Scottish Agricultural College and the University of Abertay Dundee, the programme is aimed at growing the next generation of business leaders and directors from those who are already in the workplace.

Despite that progress, we still need to inspire and encourage our young people to think about a career in the food and drink industry. With that in mind, I was pleased last Wednesday when the Scottish Food and Drink Federation launched its programme, a future in food. The bringing together of schools, teachers, lecturers, students and food and drink manufacturers from all corners of Scotland can only bring progress.

We must recognise the career opportunities that the sector offers in various areas, such as food science, engineering, finance and information technology, to name just a few. I do not want to sound like a broken record, but I will say that it is vital for all industries to show clear connections between what children learn in school and the courses, qualifications, employment and career opportunities that they can take up in later life.

Through skills development and training, companies can turn their businesses around. I have mentioned Macphie of Glenbervie in the Parliament in the past. That company is an independent food ingredients manufacturer that employs 300 people on two sites: 250 at its main plant near Stonehaven and 50 at its plant in Uddingston. Training and personal development are central to the company ethos at Macphie. Among the company's senior management team are people who left school with no qualifications, who, through personal development and encouragement from the company, improved their skills and their job opportunities.

Many other companies throughout Scotland could follow Macphie's example. That is not pie in the sky—if members will excuse the pun. The Macphie system works. When the company took over the Uddingston plant, staff turnover was 90 per cent and none of the production staff had any formal qualifications. Now, staff turnover is down to less than 1 per cent and all staff have achieved some form of qualification through national and Scottish vocational qualifications modules.

It is not just me who thinks that the food industry needs to make itself a more attractive career choice and needs to offer better training opportunities. The final word goes to Kirsty Cleaver, a work placement student and runner-up in the BBC's "Junior Apprentice", who is now working at Macphie. She said:

"More people would be interested to join the food and drink industry if it was spoken about more widely at school. Not just in the cooking part, but in all areas such as sciences, finance, quality control".

As we celebrate Scottish food and drink fortnight, let us not rest on our laurels. The industry needs to keep investing in its people if it is to maintain the worldwide reputation that it enjoys.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:57 pm, 16th September 2010

I am pleased to contribute to the debate.

A number of members have talked about the important part that farmers markets play in promoting Scottish food and drink, and I do not want to be an exception. I draw particular attention to the Cupar farmers market, which takes place on the third Saturday of the month—it will take place again on Saturday. As an experiment, the market has been moved out of the Bonnygate car park and into the Crossgate, which is Cupar's central shopping street. That should increase footfall not just for the farmers market but for other local businesses in the Crossgate.

Farmers markets provide an opportunity for people to bring new products to the market, and if members go to Cupar on Saturday they will find many interesting and innovative products, such as Anster cheese and Trotter's independent condiments. Trotter's produces delicacies such as wild garlic pesto and hot pepper jelly, which I assure members are both delicious. They will also find venison from Fletchers of Auchtermuchty, which in 2010 was named the best British small meat producer by Good Housekeeping magazine, as a result of its mail order products. For many people, a farmers market is one of the few opportunities that they have to buy good-quality venison and learn what a good and healthy product it is to cook with. In passing, I ask the minister to explain why deer farms continue to be discriminated against by their exclusion from the single farm payment scheme, which causes continuing concern to farmers such as Fletchers of Auchtermuchty.

Scotland benefits from a number of iconic brands. We need to concentrate on adding value and ensuring the quality of our products. Scotch beef, Scotch lamb and Scottish pork are well known; we also produce a lot of milk, cheese and vegetables. We need to ensure that labelling is clear and honest, particularly in the supermarket industry, so that when people think that they are buying Scottish products they actually are doing so and are able to make the choice to do so.

We also need the large supermarkets to play fair. John Scott mentioned food security, part of which is to do with ensuring that our primary producers can continue to produce with a fair return. There is a serious risk that the behaviour of our major supermarkets will drive too many of our primary producers out of business. I am pleased by the announcement by the Liberal Democrat Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, Ed Davey, that the UK coalition Government will introduce new legislation to establish a groceries code adjudicator, to ensure enforcement of the groceries supply code of practice and to protect our primary producers.

Food and drink is a key aspect of our tourism industry. I fear that too often we do not take full advantage of our food and drink in some of the events that we run. I am pleased that that is improving in many cases and that Scotland Food & Drink is making an effort to promote Scottish food and drink at festivals such as The Big Tent in Falkland, but other opportunities are missed. In his speech, Ian McKee spoke about the lack of availability of fresh seafood in many of our coastal villages. It is a great surprise to me that at the Pittenweem arts festival, a great event that is attended by hundreds of thousands of people every year, it is quite difficult to find any fresh fish—it is possible to find fish and chips—for sale on the quayside on a Saturday afternoon, in one of our primary fish markets. Surely the food and drink industry should work to ensure that we promote Scottish food and drink at such festivals.

The Edinburgh fringe is well known for its jokes about deep-fried Mars bars, but if people go to the Pleasance, the Spiegeltent or any of the other major venues, they will find that German sausages are the thing that they are most likely to be able to buy to eat. Surely we should be doing more to promote Scottish food and drink at such events.

I want to say a little about exports. This week, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, of which I have the privilege to be the convener, published the report on its inquiry into international trade. Food and drink is a major part of that; in fact, it is likely in the not-too-distant future to become the largest manufacturing part of our export trade.

We have many iconic brands that we sell abroad. Scottish smoked salmon is now a world leader. As has been mentioned, seafood from around Scotland is often more available in Spain than it is here. Whiskies with brand names such as Johnnie Walker and many of our malts are well known throughout the world. I am sure that all members welcome the announcement that a free trade agreement has been reached between the European Union and South Korea, which will result in the removal of tariff barriers to Scotch whisky. South Korea is already the seventh-largest importer of Scotch in the world. The agreement means that Scotch whisky will be able to penetrate that market even further, which is good news.

We have other brands, such as Mackay's jams from Arbroath and Walkers Shortbread. We have managed to melt the iron curtain and turn it into Irn-Bru in Russia. Tunnock's tea cakes sell in Saudi Arabia. Those are all examples of companies that have expanded well into the export market, but we do not do enough of that. Too many of our small companies do not even think about how they can export; I am sure that we could do more to encourage that.

Our inquiry focused on the need to do more to get smaller companies to look at the opportunities for food and drink. Through organisations such as Scottish Development International, we should bring more buyers from overseas to visit some of our food and drink companies, to see the good-quality production methods and products that we have here. I hope that SDI can be encouraged to promote more events for buyers, so that they can come to Scotland to visit food and drink companies.

Food and drink is one of Scotland's iconic industries. All of us want to support it. I welcome the opportunity that the debate has provided for us to highlight some of the excellent products that we produce here in Scotland. I hope that we will continue to do so.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 4:04 pm, 16th September 2010

I suggest to David Whitton, who unfortunately has left the chamber, and Richard Simpson that we should be more worried about who does not appear in "Recipe For Success". I notice that there is no picture of Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister.

As the cabinet secretary and others have said, it is fantastic to celebrate Scottish food and drink fortnight, and Scottish food and drink overall. I am happy to celebrate food and drink, especially when it is Scottish, on any occasion—some people might say that at times I celebrate it too much. I come from Glasgow, where we have excellent access to fantastic restaurants that serve Scottish produce, which is fantastic.

I want to highlight a number of areas, the first of which is farmers markets, which many members have mentioned. It is wonderful that the Government has pledged £200,000 to support and expand farmers markets. I do not know whether the Deputy Presiding Officer will agree with me on that, but I see her at the farmers market in Partick, so we certainly have something in common. Partick farmers market is fantastic. It is held right in the middle of Glasgow and you can get any produce under the sun there, including fantastic home-grown farm produce, meat produce and wine. That is a plug for farmers markets in general, but particularly the one in Partick. I should also mention the one that is held on the south side of Glasgow, in Queen's Park.

Another issue that I want to raise is the need to encourage the use of fresh, local produce, particularly in the public sector. I could not agree more with the sentiments of the minister and others on that, and with David Whitton's point about employability and apprenticeships. We must look into and support the use of local produce. For too long, local producers have not been able to get into the public sector market, if members will pardon the pun. They produce fantastic food that is much better for the people who eat it and for the environment.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

A problem that I experienced in a previous life, when I worked for a small wholesale meat business, was the fact that public sector contracts tended to be so large that small local businesses could not access them. Does the member agree that if public sector contracts were broken up into smaller units, many small, local businesses could access them?

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I fully agree. I know that the Government is looking at that; there might be an issue to do with legislation. I ask the minister to mention that when he sums up. The use of local produce is good for the people who buy it, the producers and the environment—because less transport is involved—and the produce itself is fresher. That must be looked into.

I move on to supermarkets and the stocking and supply of local goods. I note that the Government is looking into that area, too. Unfortunately, some aspects of it might be reserved, as they relate to procurement. However, the Government is pushing hard and is meeting the supermarkets and the Westminster Government to discuss it. We must tell the supermarkets that if we have local produce on our doorstep, it should be used. As my colleague Stewart Maxwell said, smaller producers should be involved as well as larger producers, and they should get a fair price.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

Does the member welcome Ed Davey's announcement that there will be a supermarket ombudsman?

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

Members are saying, "Who?" The behaviour of supermarkets has been looked at by the Scottish Government and, to be fair, was looked at by the previous Executive. It is not just a recent issue; people have been concerned about it for years. I remember standing outside certain supermarkets—I will not name them—several years ago to protest about the fact that they did not sell Scottish produce such as Scottish fish and Scottish cheese. The situation has changed a lot since then, but we must still ensure that supermarkets use local produce and that farmers and everyone else get a fair price for it.

I will digress slightly from the subject of Scottish produce. At Christmas, I was in one of the big supermarkets when a gentleman came in with a list that his wife or his partner had given him. He was looking for a turnip and he said, "I can't find turnip anywhere." I pointed and said, "They're there," but because they were labelled "swede" the man did not have a clue what to buy. That sort of issue needs to be looked at.

I turn to allotments. I am sorry to bring the Deputy Presiding Officer into things again, but I have been to see her allotment. It is very nice and produces great food, and I know that she enjoys working in it. I am sorry about that, but I could not mention allotments without mentioning the Deputy Presiding Officer's; I will not say where it is, though.

I am pleased that this Government, like its predecessor, has supported allotments—it has given £700,000 to the grow-your-own community and food projects. As Elaine Murray has already said, it is not just about people growing their own food, it is about getting exercise, showing community spirit, and general wellbeing for everyone.

There is a demand for allotments and other areas for growing. I stay in a built-up area in Glasgow, and people there cannot get access to an allotment, but there are great projects going on just now. The Annexe Healthy Living Centre in Partick is looking at community gardens in the Anderston and Argyle Street areas. I congratulate the centre on its work. If people cannot get access to fresh produce and exercise, we need to be a wee bit more innovative, particularly for those who live in built-up areas.

I congratulate all those who are involved in grow-your-own-food projects and who are pushing for more allotments. Everyone is proud of our Scottish produce, and we are selling it well, but we have to ensure that we can say to supermarkets that they have to stock it and pay the producers a fair price for it. It has been a great pleasure to take part in this debate.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 4:11 pm, 16th September 2010

Like others, I am happy to be able to add my voice in support of food and drink fortnight. Indeed, it would be hard not to do so. Anything that promotes the great produce that we have in Scotland has to be for the overall good. My region of the Highlands and Islands produces some of the best food in Scotland, and Scotland produces some of the best food in Europe and the world.

Irene Oldfather reflected on how the interest in food has developed and changed in recent decades, and I fully subscribe to that view, not just because of the necessity of food for our daily lives and the food that we hope to encounter every day, but because interest in cooking has been growing enormously. As Irene Oldfather said, that could partly be because of the celebrity chef phenomenon. I must confess that I spend far too much time watching celebrity chefs and cooking programmes, hoping to pick up hints and tips, because I enjoy cooking in my leisure time.

Celebrity chefs also take a particular interest in promoting local food. Whichever programme we might tune into, the chef will be promoting the food of the region that they are in. That has helped people to develop a greater interest in local food.

That is not the only reason for the developing interest in food. People are more interested in the provenance of food, partly because they are concerned about quality, additives and processing methods, so they are taking a closer and keener interest in local food, which they can understand and relate to more effectively.

As other members have said, local food is increasingly part of the tourism experience. People want to come to Scotland because of the food and they want to go to different parts of Scotland to sample the food. However, as Ian McKee indicated, it is often difficult to get access to local food. I am constantly struck by how difficult it is to find a good seafood restaurant around the coast of Scotland, when in other parts of the world they are a commonly-seen part of the landscape. Iain Smith is about to correct me.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

If Peter Peacock comes to the east neuk of Fife he will find some excellent seafood restaurants.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

And I have eaten in some of them. My point is that they are noticeable because they are exceptional. Such restaurants are not as common in Scotland as they are in other parts of Europe.

The tourism experience is important, and it is a reason why more interest is being taken in local food.

John Scott often alludes to food security and the need for our country to produce more food so that we can be less dependent on food from other parts of the world. There are all sorts of different reasons for that.

People are also interested in local food because of concerns about the environment and food miles. I readily confess that I do my shopping in Tesco in Inverness—it is difficult to find any shop other than Tesco in Inverness—and I am often staggered that when I am looking for asparagus, it has come from Peru. It is a staggering thought that in Inverness, sometimes the only choice is to buy asparagus from Peru. Think of the costs and environmental damage of that when we could produce much more asparagus locally. Perhaps we would not have it all year round, but we could have it when possible.

Increasingly, interest in food is becoming a leisure pursuit. "MasterChef" is inspiring whole generations of people to think about how much more they can do to raise the standards of their domestic food production and their cooking, which is very encouraging. All of what is happening is greatly encouraging. However, there is a danger that a lot of that appeals to a particular part of our society and that other parts of society are excluded from it. There is a danger that the kind of world that I have described is a middle-class interest.

At the same time that we have that welcome and growing interest in the betterment of food and the better promotion of food, we have an obesity crisis, which Elaine Murray talked about. That is partly because we all tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles than we once did, but, for many, it is probably principally fuelled by poor diet. Elaine Murray was right to point to the fact that poor diet tends to be associated with people in low-income groups who feel locked into a position where they cannot source their food in different ways—families that are dependent on processed food that is high in salt, fat and additives.

I am afraid to say that that situation is also fuelled by the sad fact that, for many families in Scotland, the art of cooking has all but disappeared. In fact, in some families, for the second or third generation, it has completely disappeared and those people do not know how to make a pot of soup—possibly the simplest meal that can be made. Many people in low-income families feel that fresh ingredients are too expensive and beyond their immediate reach, whereas the opposite is normally the case. Things that are bought fresh and cooked properly can last longer and be more economical than the processed food that many people feel they are locked into buying. Because people now lack the knowledge and skills to use fresh ingredients, that is becoming a factor.

I was intrigued to watch the "River Cottage" television series that was filmed in Bristol and involved engaging a community in a peripheral housing estate in local food production. One of the remarkable things to come out of that was the admission by one family—I know that this is common—that they only ever ate the breast of chicken and put the rest in the bin because they did not know how to do anything with it. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall promptly put them right on that, and chickens now last them for three meals rather than one. It is good to see that happen, and it is not an isolated example. As a society and a Government, we must put more effort into ensuring that the enjoyment of cooking also relates, for those in the more disadvantaged groups, to the economic benefits that cooking can bring for them as well as the health benefits. We must ensure that they rely less on processed food and that that whole way of approaching food is brought to a much wider audience than at present.

We must link food production and cooking, as there is such an interest in it, while ensuring that the skills and the land are available to promote better food than we have had in the past. In setting that challenge, I am far from being pessimistic. Landshare is an initiative that brings together people who have a passion for home-grown food. It is for people who want to grow food but who do not have land and for people who have land that they are prepared to share with those who want it. The initiative provides tools and expertise in the ways of doing things. Landshare came out of the "River Cottage" experience in Bristol, which was so inspiring that the makers of "River Cottage" wondered whether the initiative could be made to work nationwide. Landshare is now a national movement involving more than 50,000 people. That is an incredible success in a short period of time. The Landshare website provides a matchmaking service, which enables those with land to link up with those who want somewhere close by them to grow food. Believe it or not, that website is run, in part, from the island of Eigg. I was happy to be there recently to hear a bit about that and other things that I have touched on.

Landshare promotes another online tool that enables people to get access to allotments by putting six people together who then write to their council to trigger the allotments legislation in their favour. There is also a service to identify derelict land of the kind that Sandra White referred to that can be brought into use. In fact, when I recently got off a train at Paddington station, in the heart of London, I saw a new set of allotments on what was previously derelict land in the centre of that major city. It can be done. Landshare is promoting that excellent initiative, and I hope that we can see much more of that.

On the boat back from Eigg, I met an entrepreneur from the south who owns 150 garden centres and is promoting allotments beside them on a commercial basis. Literally thousands of new allotments are being brought into use through that mechanism.

All that points to more demand for allotments than there is land available. We need to do even more in Scotland to promote such schemes, and to cut into the waiting lists that Elaine Murray referred to earlier.

Shared community polytunnels are now emerging—there is one in the Black Isle, which I see Rob Gibson is aware of. I do not know if he has visited it—I have still to do that. Polytunnels offer a way to extend the season for and the range and variety of produce that can be grown. I am interested to hear what the minister has to say about allotments in his summing up.

I am prepared to continue if the Presiding Officer wishes, but if he wishes me to shut up I am equally prepared to sit down. I see that he is not encouraging me to sit down, so I will say a bit more.

It is not just allotments that are needed—there is also a need for more small-scale commercial production. Again on my visit to Eigg, I met a local food group that is not only increasing the production of local food on the island by using polytunnels and other mechanisms and supplying local shops with it, but reducing the amount of food that is imported to the island. That is part of creating a more sustainable island, but the group wants to go further by expanding the production and adding value by building a new facility. I hope that the Scotland rural development programme will be able to help with that, and I hope that the rules are flexible enough to allow that type of development to be supported.

I note that the minister was in the Cairngorms earlier this week to support the food for life initiative. I have to say that his photograph aged him terribly; he looked even older than David Green, which is saying something. It is an excellent initiative, and it is good that the Cairngorms national park is promoting food production, attaching that to the Cairngorm label and helping social and economic development in the area.

I make a plea to the minister to help the local food movement to move further forward. We are seeing, and have seen during the past few decades, a contraction in the number of slaughterhouses. I urge him to take another look at whether there are ways in which we can interpret the rules differently—as they seem to do in Austria, which is also part of the EU—and encourage more local slaughtering to progress the local food movement.

I see that the Presiding Officer is now frowning at me, so I will sit down.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Thank you, Mr Peacock. There is, after all, only so much that one can take of a good thing.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party 4:22 pm, 16th September 2010

When members think of Dundee in a culinary debate, they can be forgiven for thinking of pies—or pehs, as eh wid ca them. There are some very good pies that come out of Dundee, but the city might not be your first thought when looking at what Scotland has to offer in terms of food and drink.

That is not the case for the cabinet secretary, who was one of 26,000 visitors who flocked to Dundee's flower and food festival at Camperdown park earlier this month. I hope that he will excuse me for giving a quick plug for next year's festival, which will be held from 2 to 4 September. He will of course be very welcome, along with any other members who want to come to Dundee. I cannot guarantee that the weather will be quite as good as it was this year, but Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland, so the odds are better.

This year, festival attendees were treated to cookery demonstrations from celebrity chefs such as the hairy bikers, and had the chance to sample some excellent produce from Tayside and beyond. The flower and food festival provides an ideal opportunity to showcase the quality and range of produce that is produced on our doorstep, and to encourage people to embrace Scottish produce.

Exhibitors such as Yorkes of Dundee, which sources meat from a local herd of Angus and Highland cattle, and Westpark Nursery, which produces fruit and vegetables on the outskirts of Dundee, were on hand to provide tasters to tempt the public and get them to eat more Scottish produce. Judging by the feedback that we have had from this year's festival, there has been some fantastic success in that regard.

In this year of food and drink, Dundee had the honour of being chosen as the location of the 50th National Vegetable Society competition, which the Deputy Presiding Officer, who has just left the chamber, would no doubt have enjoyed. Entrants from as far afield as Jersey and Northern Ireland came to the competition at the flower and food festival, and visitors had the opportunity to learn about the techniques and benefits of growing your own vegetables. In the past, allotment owners kept many of the techniques that they used secret, but I am told that, nowadays, they want to pass on their techniques and encourage as many new people as possible to join their pastime and produce their own food.

Education is a big part of Scottish food and drink fortnight. We must ensure that the public, and especially children, learn about food from plough to plate. The Scottish Government's national food and drink policy, which was launched in June 2009, also highlights the importance of food education. I was particularly pleased to be able to join the Minister for Public Health and Sport and member for Dundee East at the formal launch of the Food Standard Agency Scotland's schools resources on the first day of this year's Dundee flower and food festival.

Getting children to engage with food is vital if we are to change habits. With that in mind, each year in Dundee, a partnership involving NHS Tayside, Dundee College and the Dundee flower and food festival invites schools throughout Tayside to submit entries to the Desperate Dan-wich healthy eating competition.

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour

I am tempted to say, "Speaking of Desperate Dan," but I will not do that. In engaging with the children and teaching them about food, does that initiative also encourage them to look at the food industry and the food sector as a place for a good career opportunity?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I was pleased to be able to sit with some of the kids from one of the schools in my constituency, St Andrew's primary school, while they were interacting with the games that have been produced. The initiative looks at the whole range of the food industry. The focus is on ensuring that kids understand where their food comes from, the health benefits of different foods and how food should be stored, but as part of the process the kids were engaging in the possibility of being part of that growing industry.

Going back to the "Desperate Dan-wich" sandwich competition, it was obviously felt that Desperate Dan's cow pies were not very balanced, and the competition gives children an opportunity to learn more about healthy food choices. This year, some 435 recipes for healthy sandwiches were submitted from throughout Tayside, and 12 finalists were invited to the food festival to make their own sandwiches. Nine-year-old Lewis Walker from Pitlochry primary school took the coveted title with his creation, the Chicken Licken pitta. I am sure that we are all waiting for next year's Turkey Lurkey sequel.

As we heard from the cabinet secretary, we are on the way to growing Scotland's food and drink sector to £12.5 billion per annum by 2017, and Dundee is playing its part in that. I hope that everybody in the chamber agrees that we should all unite behind that target and ensure that we reach it. All of Scotland has to be a part of that.

Members might not be aware of Dundee Cold Stores Ltd, which supplies locally grown vegetables to all the major brands throughout the UK and is Scotland's only large-scale frozen fruit and vegetable plant. The service that it provides, which ensures that products go from the field to the freezer within 150 minutes, is particularly important for beans and peas, and it has led to one in six of all peas that are consumed in the UK being produced in Dundee. That is thanks to a grant of more than £500,000 from the Scottish Government's food processing, marketing and co-operation grants scheme.

The company is continuing to expand and it is making big inroads into frozen food markets throughout the UK. It is also taking steps to become more energy efficient and plans to reduce its carbon footprint and increase its market competitiveness by erecting an 850KW commercial-scale wind turbine at the factory. The turbine could generate 20 per cent of the company's annual energy needs. It sets a great example to food producers in the area and it will make the company's peas greener without the need to add E numbers.

It would be remiss of me to talk about food without touching on the Scottish Crop Research Institute, which, although not in my constituency, is close to it and employs a number of my constituents. The SCRI is one of the leaders of research into producing new varieties of crops and the bulk of what comes out of its research is done using non-genetic techniques to make sure that we continue with Scotland's proud record of being a GM-free food producer.

The food and drink sector plays a vital role in our economy and Scottish food and drink fortnight provides an ideal opportunity to showcase and promote the world-class produce that we have. It will help to ensure that we grow the sector and head towards the target of £12.5 billion per annum by 2017.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I thank all members for making good use of the extra time available. They have done so to the extent that I must ask closing speakers to stick closely to the times that they were advised of. Liam McArthur has around six minutes.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 4:30 pm, 16th September 2010

The debate is important and it has been useful, if not solely for the purpose of providing a support group for those of us without an invitation to Bellahouston park this afternoon. It has also allowed Peter Peacock to get a number of issues off his chest.

Scottish Liberal Democrats fully support the ethos and objectives of the Scottish food and drink fortnight and the year of food and drink, which will run until May 2011. I, too, congratulate the Scottish Countryside Alliance on the role that it has played. Both initiatives draw valuable and much-needed focus on to the extraordinary range of Scottish produce and—most important—its quality. Its quality is critical. The debate has exposed, possibly through Gavin Brown's questioning, a degree of uncertainty about the true value of our food and drink sector, but there has been no disagreement about the economic importance of its wealth and job creation, or about the range of companies in the sector, from the biggest companies to cottage industries. Providing quality is the only way of ensuring that that key industry remains globally competitive. It is also the only way in which justice can be done to the natural advantages that we enjoy.

Of course, the Scottish food and drink fortnight, like similar events that are arranged to draw attention to other sectors and issues, relies implicitly on the support of a wider strategy. The contribution that such a focus on Scotland's food and drink industry can and does make should not be underestimated, but it is essential that it is rooted in a coherent and comprehensive strategy to support the development of the sector and the need for constant innovation in particular.

In that context, I welcome the approach that is taken in the national food and drink policy, if not all the photographs in the policy document. As well as emphasising the significance of what is rightly identified as a key sector in our economy, it is entirely appropriate that policies that support the sector should emphasise the health, environmental and educational benefits to be derived from it. Joe FitzPatrick mentioned the educational benefits. The overlap of those themes is now well recognised. However, I hope that the minister accepts that there is still some way to go to achieve many of the multiple benefits that are available from more extensive procurement of a wider range of healthy, locally sourced produce. My colleague Jim Hume referred a great deal to local sourcing. Members will recognise his efforts in that regard in the Parliament and prior to 2007—he mentioned those efforts. Despite the expressed good intentions of ministers in the current Administration and previously, the figures suggest, as Jim Hume made clear, that local authorities' procurement practices are at best patchy. In some cases, they fall woefully short of where we would want them to be at this stage, given the efforts to date.

Like John Scott and Jim Hume, I welcome the close involvement that Robin Gourlay will have, but I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge that he faces. It is clear that local authorities, the NHS and others in the public sector have legal requirements to secure best value, but the discrepancy between the performance of some councils in the area—Mr Lochhead rightly mentioned East Ayrshire Council—and the performance of others suggests that best practice is not being properly shared. Perhaps the cabinet secretary could set out a little more clearly how he plans to address that over the remainder of the year of Scottish food and drink.

As well as offering economic benefits from supporting local farm and other food and drink businesses, the strategy's success offers the simultaneous opportunity to improve Scotland's appalling health record through promoting better diets. Elaine Murray rightly highlighted the social justice dimension and the unhelpful image that Scotland's appalling health record portrays internationally, and Irene Oldfather rightly drew attention to the explosion of cookery programmes, of which Peter Peacock is but one avid viewer. Despite the increased awareness that exists, our health record remains stubbornly appalling.

Reducing average food miles by sourcing more food locally can help to curb the harmful emissions that arise from unnecessary transport. Given the stretching targets that we have set ourselves in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and the need for early action to get us on the right trajectory to achieving those targets, I hope that the cabinet secretary recognises the need for urgent action.

Despite not having been invited to Holyrood this morning or Bellahouston park this afternoon, it is clear that most of us have derived consolation from the welcome opportunity that this debate has provided to wax lyrical about the tremendous contribution that our constituencies and regions make to Scotland's world-class food and drink industry. That is entirely right and proper and, in that spirit, please allow me to serve up an offering from the islands that I represent.

Orkney's quality food and drink industry does tremendous work in supporting the range of award-winning products that emanate from my constituency. Many are household names and now supply many of the most reputable supermarkets, independent retailers and high-class restaurants. On the menu of those restaurants, one may find shellfish landed fresh from the seas around Orkney, the finest beef and lamb, the best cheese in Scotland, milk and butter, oatcakes, bread and bannocks baked from the ancient bere barley, all washed down with a pint of Dark Island, Red McGregor or Scapa ale, or Highland Park or Scapa whisky, according to taste.

As well as the quality of the produce, it is important to recognise the part played by effective marketing. As the cabinet secretary suggested, it is not just a question of slapping a saltire on the pack. The story behind the product is integral to helping distinguish it in a marketplace where an emphasis on quality can be taken as almost a given. That has certainly been key to Orkney's success, not just in food and drink, but across a wide range of sectors under the Orkney the brand initiative. Scotland as a whole is doing the same thing, but it is clear that it could do better.

A number of members highlighted the inextricable link between the food and drink sector and Scotland's critical tourism industry. The effect can be dramatic where the crossover is managed effectively, but all too often tourists looking to sample good local produce across many parts of Scotland find it incredibly difficult to do so. Peter Peacock, Ian McKee and Rob Gibson all drew attention to the fact that dining out on some of Scotland's best produce is possible only when one heads furth of Scotland.

This has been a useful debate that has celebrated our world-class food and drink sector and will help to support its future success. We should not, however, lose sight of some of the serious challenges that face us, such as food security, the pressures on our pelagic and demersal sectors, and procurement, about which David Whitton's comments were well made, not least in avoiding a repeat of the sort of experiences that Ian McKee has had to endure on holidays in the past.

There is much to celebrate and it is good that we do so. Perhaps another upside of the Papal visit is that it persuaded business managers to free up the time for this afternoon's important debate.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative 4:37 pm, 16th September 2010

We began this afternoon by celebrating the growth of the Scottish food and drink fortnight and thereafter the debate expanded widely across a whole range of food and drink topics. The cabinet secretary started the debate in a positive manner by pointing out just how important it is to raise awareness about the quality and variety of Scottish food. He pointed to the food and drink fortnight as being a good example of joining together producers, retailers, restaurateurs, farm shops, hoteliers, markets and just about everybody else in between. He also said, quite rightly, that this is the year of food and drink, which I understand started in May and will run for the rest of the year.

A range of topics were covered and my colleague John Scott majored on two of them: food security and pricing. Mr Scott put forward his fears about the volatility of prices in the food sector, particularly in relation to wheat, which has had a difficult year as a result of disasters in Russia and Pakistan. He also pointed out that the input costs for many producers are going up significantly and highlighted the cost of fertilisers. He said that food inflation is running at about 7 per cent, which is pretty high when we consider that the consumer prices index, announced last week, is at just over 3 per cent. Mr Scott also touched on his slight difficulties with regulation and red tape. Many businesses in Scotland suffer from too much red tape and regulation, but those in the food and drink sector probably take more than their fair share of that burden and anything that can be done to cut it must be positive.

We heard about healthy eating and obesity. Elaine Murray spent a lot of her speech labouring that issue. There is a particular concern about obesity in our children and what we can do to try to turn that around. I do not think that there are any quick fixes there, but turn it around we must if we are to prosper as a nation.

We heard about the reputation of Scottish food, procurement and the economic impact of our food and drink industry, on which I will spend my remaining time. We know that there are an enormous number of jobs in the supply chain, however one decides to carve that up. We know that somewhere in the region of 75,000 businesses are involved in food and drink and that there is an enormous gross value added, to the tune of about £9.5 billion, for the Scottish economy.

Whichever way exports are dressed up, food and drink account for a massive slice of them. Whether food and drink exports are worth £4 billion or £5 billion, total Scottish exports last year, on which figures came out at the end of last week, were worth about £15 billion. So, whether food is worth £4 billion or £5 billion, it is an enormous slice of that total.

I asked the cabinet secretary about the figures that he set out in his speech. The Scottish Government website and the food strategy document say that food and drink exports overseas are worth £5 billion a year; Scottish Development International says that last year was a record year, with exports worth £4.06 billion; and the Scotland's global connections survey says that the figure was £3.8 billion. Different organisations occasionally come up with different figures, but my worry is that all three are part of the Scottish Government: Scottish Development International is a part of the Scottish Government; the global connections survey is carried out by the Scottish Government; and of course the cabinet secretary's food and drink strategy document comes from the Scottish Government.

There might not be an answer to that today, but it is important to know the value to the Scottish economy of overseas food and drink exports. Is it £4 billion or is it £5 billion? There is a pretty big disparity between the two figures. The figure is important not just for its own sake; we need a baseline because the Government, in alignment with the industry, has set targets for driving the industry forward. The strategy sets a clear target of going from £7.5 billion for total sales, including exports, to £10 billion by 2017. If the figure for exports is £1 billion out, how on earth can we measure progress towards that target and how would we have any idea in 2017 whether we had got there? I hope that the cabinet secretary will address that point, either today or later on, because it is extremely important to get a baseline.

We heard about the value of exports from the Scottish whisky industry. Iain Smith gave us the good news that South Korea has decided to relax some of its trading arrangements; the Scotch Whisky Association has been pushing for that for a number of years.

We are doing a lot at the moment—the Government is clearly acting and all parties and the industry are engaging in that work—but there is a reason why this subject is so important just now. Usually, we cannot compete on price. Usually, we compete only on quality, but because the pound is weak at the moment, particularly against the euro, we can compete on price for the foreseeable future. For that reason, we must drive the industry forward now.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 4:44 pm, 16th September 2010

For most of us who attended the debate, it was interesting and instructive. A small group at the back of the SNP benches spent most of the time talking to each other, but I think that the rest of us were quite interested in the speeches that were made cross-party. Members made thoughtful contributions about where improvements could be made to strengthen the industry and the serious challenges that the industry is facing, which Liam McArthur described. It has not been some sort of happy-clappy debate about how great everything is, although we have heard about very good examples from around the country.

John Scott illustrated some of the problems that the food and drink producers are facing.

Jim Hume talked about discrepancies in performance between local authorities. If we are looking at public procurement, we have to understand why some authorities are doing so much better than others.

A number of speakers—Rob Gibson, Iain Smith and Peter Peacock—talked about the problems with being able to access locally produced food. Like Iain Smith, I find it astonishing that, although we talk about the need for deer management and how there are too many deer in parts of the country, it can be difficult in certain areas to procure venison, which is a good, local, healthy food. Why is that?

Ian McKee rightly said that it is important that we do not become too complacent. He also mentioned the need to have a sound home performance and good-quality service as well as good-quality food if we are to be able to exploit our food and drink for tourism purposes.

David Whitton spoke about skills. There is a skills gap in the food and drink production and manufacturing sector, despite the fact that it is one of Scotland's largest manufacturing industries and despite its importance in export. That concurs with evidence that the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee received on farming, particularly hill farming. The loss of people from the land has resulted in a loss of skills. In particular, it is compounded by the fact that farmers have to find other incomes and are not able to maintain their skills. There is a skills issue not only in production but in primary production, which needs to be addressed and taken on by the colleges and further education establishments.

John Scott also spoke about food security, which is an increasingly important issue. The food and drink supply chain is the UK's largest single manufacturing sector—it accounts for something like 7 per cent of gross domestic product—but, despite the fact that UK farming exports £12 billion of food and drink, Britain is not self-sufficient and imports something like 40 per cent of the total food that is consumed in the country. The food supply chain is also vulnerable to changes in society and the environment, which can lead to volatility and price changes, such as the increase in grain prices in 2008.

That is an issue not only for us, because the global population is increasing and food production is threatened by climate change, scarce water supplies in many parts of the world, an increased range of pests as temperature increases, the decline in numbers of pollinators such as bees—Peter Peacock likes to remind us about that—and the distortion of the market by the demands of wealthy consumers in rich countries for specialist food and flowers, which often prevents local people from growing the food that they need to supply their demand. I wonder about the asparagus to which Peter Peacock referred. What could be grown in Peru that the local population needs if it was not exporting asparagus to Britain and incurring many food miles? Irene Oldfather mentioned the importance of the fair trade movement, which seeks to address that imbalance.

One of the other issues to which Peter Peacock referred in passing was waste. He spoke about people not knowing how to cook the entire product. There is quite a lot of television interest in that at the moment and various programmes try to encourage people to use the whole animal—I saw one last night, as it happens—but the statistics on food waste are shocking. The cabinet secretary is probably concerned about that issue. In Scotland, more than £1 billion-worth of food is thrown away every year. That is £430-worth per household and 566,000 tonnes of food, two thirds of which could have been eaten and half of which has not even been touched. That is the equivalent of 1.7 million tonnes of carbon and it would be the equivalent of taking a quarter of our cars off the road if we could eliminate it, although we will not do so altogether.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome estimates that more than 1 billion people throughout the world are starving, which means that, in Scotland—in this small nation—we throw away £1-worth of perfectly good food per starving person in the world. That is one of the reasons why food waste needs to be addressed. The statistics are scandalous and, if we could get that message over to the public more, we might move away from the commonly held view that people can throw whatever they like in their bins because they pay their council tax and that is what the tax is for. I support Scotland's zero waste campaign—love food, hate waste—and believe that we need to get the message out more widely.

We must also not allow excuses about the fiscal climate to deflect us from efforts to reduce waste. In England, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs appears to be pulling back from some of its waste management agenda and I very much hope that that will not happen in Scotland, because the consequences for the climate are significant if we do not tackle waste. We must find innovative ways around that.

A number of members have mentioned the allotments movement. It is an exciting movement. Allotments were very common during the war—there were about 70,000 or 80,000 allotments in Scotland then, but that total has now gone down to about 7,000. However, there is now huge interest in growing one's own food and that is very much to be encouraged for all the reasons that members such as Sandra White have described.

Peter Peacock described an interesting initiative in his region, which links the issues of food security and sustainability on the island of Eigg. He pointed out that the food chain depends on local facilities such as slaughterhouses being available. That is an important consideration for producing local food in rural areas. There is no point reducing food miles by selling local food if the animal has to go to the other end of the country to be killed, and the produce then has to come back again. We have to address that.

Several areas of policy have been referenced in the debate, and we need to tie them all together. There is Scotland Food & Drink and "Recipe for Success"—a number of members have referred to the photographs in the document, but there are other issues there, too. There is the skills strategy, which David Whitton mentioned; there are also the land use strategy, the zero waste strategy, the tourism strategy and other strategies relating to reducing climate change. Our food and drink policy can positively affect all those strategic areas, but we need to understand how the strategies work together if we are to get the maximum benefit. That is particularly the case during times of financial stringency such as the period that we are experiencing at the moment.

It is good to celebrate the success of food and drink fortnight and its growth across the country since its inception. It is also good to look forward and address some of the challenges that we face, through this and other policies.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 4:52 pm, 16th September 2010

This has been a good debate, with a lot of consensus on the importance of the food and drink industry in Scotland and on the importance of celebrating it, as we have been doing over this Scottish food and drink fortnight.

There have been some disappointments—I am very disappointed to learn that I feature in only seven photographs in the food policy document. I am sure that the point that David Whitton was trying to make was that I should feature in many more.

However, disappointments have been few and far between, as it has been a good debate. We can argue over the figures for employment levels in food and drink and the economic value of food and drink in Scotland. Because the industry is now a priority, it is important to bring together the various agencies, with their statistics and figures, to ensure that we are using the same methodology—we have different methodologies at the moment, and some people concentrate on manufacturing jobs in the food and drink sector, whereas other bodies, including the Scottish Government, include jobs to do with food and drink across the whole supply chain. Looking at those figures in different ways gives different results. We need uniformity in our approach and in how we use figures as a base for where we go from here.

Irrespective of any argument over figures, I hope that we can all agree on the importance of the sector and on the fact that it is going in the right direction. Food and drink policy is going in the right direction, and the employment statistics and economic value statistics are all going in the right direction, too.

As food and drink minister, I have been lucky enough not only to enjoy lots of food and drink from Scotland over the summer months but to visit many businesses the length and breadth of the country. The week before last, for example, I visited the Lockerbie creamery. There is a good-news story there, and the staff spoke of their plans for developing new products in the future. I visited Vion in Coupar Angus. There is good news there, too, with the company wishing to capitalise, through its meat products, on Scotland's reputation for quality and provenance. More investment decisions are being announced at what is a major employer in that area.

Last week, I visited Braehead Foods in Kilmarnock, which deals in Scottish game. Again, there is a good-news story there—the company has grown over recent years and has opened a cook school, which is doing very well. Also in the past few weeks, I went to Mackay's in Arbroath to look at its new products, in particular the marmalades and chutneys. Mackay's is a traditional company, but it is doing extremely well. The figures are rocketing, and the firm aims to get into new markets and new products. It is success story after success story.

The wider food and drink sector in Scotland is not without its challenges. Some sectors have been impacted by the economic climate. Overall, however, it is a good-news story with lots of success to talk about.

I, too, have visited Macphie of Glenbervie, which was mentioned by David Whitton and other members. Not only has it a lot of good news to tell about its new products and new markets but, as Mr Whitton pointed out, it takes very seriously its role in skills and development and in attracting young people into the food and drink sector. It has set a fantastic example for other Scottish companies.

I do not know whether David Whitton was too busy counting the number of photographs in the document in which I feature, but I have to tell him that, despite what he said, I did mention skills and training in my opening remarks. Indeed, I pointed out that, compared with the handful of apprenticeships that we previously had in the food and drink sector, there are now 600. I thought that, at the food of the future event that, as members have pointed out, the Scottish Food and Drink Federation held last week in Parliament and which many of us attended, it was fantastic to see the video featuring young employees from Macphie of Glenbervie and other Scottish companies and heartening to hear them say that they saw their future in Scotland's food and drink sector. That project alone, which is receiving £180,000 from the Scottish Government, will help 3,000 children in Scotland's schools learn about the food and drink industry.

A lot more is being done. For example, we are working up proposals for a national food skills academy in Scotland. I hope to make an announcement about that in the near future, but I can say that staff from Macphie of Glenbervie have also put a lot of effort into that initiative.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

We all agree that we need more young people to work in the industry, but does the cabinet secretary agree that the policy of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board is reducing their ability to do so?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am not sure that there is any evidence to support that claim. Of course, we have to keep such issues under review to ensure that we are aware of any impact that the board might be having.

Scotland's food and drink policy has given rise to a lot of firsts. For example, many members highlighted the need to work with retailers and supermarkets in Scotland. I said in my opening remarks that, in the past three years alone, demand for Scottish brands not only in Scotland but in England and Wales has increased by 30 per cent, much of which has been down to awareness among our retailers and supermarkets that they need to work more closely with our smaller producers, in particular, and to respond to consumer demand. When people go to the supermarket, the local shop or wherever, they want to see our fantastic Scottish produce on display and have the opportunity to buy it.

Liam McArthur's comments about the use of the saltire are important. My point was that many people associate the saltire, on which, of course, supermarkets and retailers are capitalising, with quality, provenance and something that they will enjoy eating and drinking. However, we must be careful that the sign lives up to its reputation and that it is not exploited by manufacturers who have not contributed to that reputation and therefore do not deserve to get sales through it. However, although that debate is important, we should not attack the saltire. It is a fantastic symbol and is responsible for the increase in sales that I mentioned earlier.

Some small Scottish producers want to become bigger; others do not. Although it is important that we work across the supply chain to ensure that small producers can get their products sold in some of the bigger supermarkets, we must also work with companies that want to become the big household names of the future. We want to add value to the fantastic raw materials that our farmers and crofters produce and the seafood that our fishermen land at the quayside. Many of these companies are growing and our food policy must support them in becoming much bigger companies and employers of the future.

As John Scott and others pointed out, our fishing and agricultural policies will have to be linked to our food policy if we want the fantastic raw materials on which our processing and manufacturing sector relies to be there for ever more. It is important, therefore, that we get the common agricultural policy right and that it delivers support for our primary producers—Scotland's crofters and farmers. We also have to get the common fisheries policy right because, if we do not, we will not have as much stock in our sea or as many fishermen in our coastal communities. Just as we do not want to waste food in our homes and businesses—as Elaine Murray made clear in her speech—we do not want the fantastic food in our seas to be wasted through discards. That is just a complete waste.

In the bigger picture, we as a planet must face up to many challenges. The global population is forecast to increase from 6.1 billion to 9 billion by 2050, which will place a huge demand on the planet's resources. That is why we must tackle issues such as food waste, because the demand for food, for instance, will increase by 50 per cent. World energy demand will also increase by 50 per cent and demand for water will increase by 30 per cent by 2030. We must recognise that we are part of the planet and that we cannot afford to waste natural resources, but we must also acknowledge that Scotland is not short of energy or the ability to produce food and drink and that we are certainly not short of water.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

That situation gives our food and drink businesses a big competitive advantage and will give the whole of Scotland a big competitive advantage in the decades that are ahead. It is important that we protect the country's capacity to produce food, which we are good at doing.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Scottish food and drink fortnight is all about celebrating the fact that we are fantastic at producing food and drink, thanks to our natural environment and the skills and talents of our people and the businesses in which they work. I urge all members to continue to work across Scotland with our primary producers, retailers, the Scottish Government and all our agencies not only to celebrate food and drink but to ensure that the industry goes from strength to strength and that the nation gains all the resulting benefits.