FOR many years now I have been making a pilgrimage to the town of Quimper on the south-west coast of Brittany in July to meet up with old friends and take in as much as I can of the excellent music at the Celtic Festival de Cornouaille.
Brittany has much in common with Caithness and the wider Highlands and Islands – a unique place with a largely rural community with a way of life very much bound to the land and sea. It is France's main agricultural area and plays a significant role in its fishing industry.
As you might imagine, the local produce is of great quality with an emphasis on natural production methods.
One morning, while venturing out to buy the croissants and local newspaper, I passed the van of the local charcuterie, which had emblazoned on the side a slogan which read, "Chicken raised the natural way – out of doors!" A salient point.
I thought about natural farming practices which are so successful in Caithness via the Mey Selection brand, as well as the Scottish Government's food-and-drink policy which is geared towards local and sustainable production.
The natural, local way to do things – there must be something in it. That is why I was perturbed to read a press release from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland.
In it they effectively called for a relaxing of the laws on the importation of GM soya and maize into the European Union. That is playing with fire. Less scrutiny of GM feed which comes into Scotland, or any other part of the EU for that matter, could play havoc with our precious biodiversity. What is needed is increased scrutiny of GM feed, not less.
Indeed a better course of action is to look at what is being trialled in our own country.
The Scottish Agricultural College has developed high-protein feed from home-grown legumes, which avoids the need to import soya from around the globe, while the Scottish Crop Research Institute has developed non-GM blight-resistant potatoes. Surely local research and development is the way ahead as opposed to a reliance on untested soya and maize from around the world?
LAST week the new French industry minister Christian Estrosi visited Bolloré d'Ergué Gabéric battery factory near Quimper. He was there to tour the plant which will help revolutionise electric-powered travel.
As from September, the factory will produce lithium-metal-polymer batteries for the BlueCar, which is produced by the distinguished Italian car designers Pininfarina. Five thousand of these have already been pre-ordered and are expected to be on the road by June 2010. The plant expects to produce 100,000 batteries a year. At the end of the visit the minister also announced that the French government had ordered 100,000 of these vehicles for local governments to use around the country.
The batteries have also been trialled on trams in Paris as well as Germany. The results showed a 15 to 30 per cent saving in energy consumption. It is a stark message that the future of electric transport is becoming a reality in these parts of Europe.
Electric transport is exactly the route we need to take in Scotland and the UK and, yet again, Caithness could take the lead. The advanced ABSL battery factory comes to mind as it has similarities with the one in Brittany.
Like its Breton counterpart, the factory is a distance from the car producer but it is exactly the climate-change-busting activity that will be needed.
The Scottish transport minister Stewart Stevenson has urged motorists to make fewer journeys.
The next step is to prepare for all-electric vehicles. The year 2050 could see the end of carbonised transport on the roads in Scotland. The Far North should seek an early stake in that new market and help lead the way.