Thursday, 1 May 2008

Food Security Debate, The Scottish Parliament

Thursday 1 May 2008

I welcome the debate. I hope that the idea of food security for this country can be translated on to a global scale - as our food security cannot be premised on insecurity for people across the globe. How we achieve that has to be part of the national food policy conversation. I will dwell on some of these issues in my speech, given that they fit into the subject matter of the Conservatives' motion. I agree that, at the outset, we are looking for action at the Scottish, British and European levels, but we have to go on to challenge the World Trade Organization. We have to ask about the right of people to have a fair deal for their produce rather than free trade in food.

If we are debating national food policy — as the minister said - there has been an enormous response to the paper. We must ask, as NFU Scotland did, "what is on your plate?" The answer to that, above all, will determine whether we are doing as much as possible to feed ourselves in this country, both in terms of quantity and quality. In that respect I am glad that the Government is supporting more local food production and, in particular, the public procurement of more locally sourced food. That lead will encourage more people to grow food locally and to have it bought in a secure market.

The Government has held a supermarket summit that allowed discussion with the large combines on the issue of local food sourcing. We saw an example of that in the Parliament last week. Fundamentally, we have to tackle the issue of labelling and the way in which supermarkets display their goods. Although Scottish meat may be well labelled as such on supermarket shelves, it is laid out next to the Brazilian stuff. If people are poor and on a tight budget they will always go for the cheaper product. That cannot be allowed to be the basis on which a Scottish food policy is built. Our engagement with the supermarkets has to include dealing with the issue of labelling. We have to have the statutory controls to ensure that labelling requirements enjoy the kind of backing that will make the supermarkets come to heel.
The NFU wants a European model of agriculture to continue after 2013.

In the debate on the national food policy, we should define what that model will be. As I have hinted, the kind of food security that we want, with more local production, has to take account of the ways in which we produce our food. I will therefore have to focus on biofuels. We have heard the arguments on this displacement crop. As Oxfam has pointed out in its report "Bio-fuelling Poverty" once people lose their land to the biofuel producers they lose their livelihood. As Oxfam says: "Many end up in slums in search of work, others will fall into migratory labour patterns, while some will be forced to take jobs on the very plantations which displaced them and where labour standards can be horrific."

That is the downside of biofuels. Scotland's biofuel capacity from oil-seed rape could instead produce cattle cake; it could become a local source of animal feed and the like. We have to build that into the policy. I ask members to ensure that, when we come together, we base our efforts on "maintaining the diversity of the animals bred and plants grown." The principle that "for both historic and economic reasons we must preserve the biodiversity of the land" should be at the root of any food policy. It should be applied not only in this country but across the world.

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