19 September 2006

Local Food- Miles better

Last week in Parliament I was able to take part in a debate which highlighted that buying and producing food locally is a win-win situation for all involved.

Especially when we consider that some 75% of Scotland’s land mass is under agricultural production, making the industry the single biggest determinant of the landscape we see around us. Scotland’s farmers, crofters and growers produce output worth around £2 billion a year. If we were to make more use of Scotland’s produce we could even reduce our carbon footprint on the world according to a report published in the journal Food Policy local food is usually more "green" than organic food. The authors calculated that if all foods were sourced from within 20km of where they were consumed, environmental and congestion costs would fall from more than £2.3bn to under £230m - an "environmental saving" of £2.1bn annually.

However recent statistics show that a traditional Sunday lunch could easily have travelled 25,000 miles to get to our plates ranging from lamb from New Zealand and vegetables from Africa, so, why is this the case and what can we do in Scotland to end the food miles.

Well the call for local food to be labelled as such, perhaps with information on the food miles travelled shown on the label is a good idea that should be given some credence. Indeed given that the Arbroath Smokie gained the same rights as Camembert, Parma ham and champagne under the place of origin individual regional trademark scheme I fully believe that Scotland has a wide range of products that could also be protected under this scheme to worldwide acclaim. This would attract new visitors to the area and it would not just be the scenery that took people’s breath away but also the local produce and as we all know the North-east is renowned for the quality of its meat, seafood and other produce and that our farmers, fishermen and producers deserve our (and the Executives) support. And the prize to gain is worthwhile given that currently food tourism is already worth more than £900 million to Scotland's tourism industry, this figure could and should increase significantly given the right level of encouragement. The benefits are there for all to see, the local food sector has the potential to alleviate social and economic disadvantage. There is significant scope to increase the uptake of local food. With a co-ordinated approach, locally produced foods could be sold locally at affordable prices and still be profitable for the supplier.

We in Scotland should be proud of our National larder we should not be hiding it under a bush. Scotland’s food producers must adhere to the strictest and toughest food regulations in the world. As such our hygiene, health and safety standards of or food stuff is of the highest quality. However quality does not mean that you have to pay over the odds for produce many people may be shocked to realise that their local food producer may be cheaper that the big supermarkets, in fact when I go to my local butcher, who sells organic beef which is locally grown, I pay a lower price than I would pay at Tesco down the road. If more people where to consider the matter, they would discover that option for themselves.

But we all need to change our shopping habits to release the potential of our local food, and the Government and big business must change also as there are strange working practices for example, white fish is landed at Peterhead, the biggest white-fish port in Europe, and pelagic fish is landed at Fraserburgh. It costs £700 for a lorry to take the fish down to the supermarkets' distribution centres in the north of England, only for that fish to be returned to Tesco's store in Fraserburgh. Yes, the fish is transported all the way down to the north of England and back again. That is quite absurd. That money could be invested in supporting quality local producers without in any sense putting a penny on the price of food on the plate. It’s time that we all realised that with a little thought and care we can end the food miles, eat healthier and invest in the local economy and you don’t have to sell that idea to me.

Fishing Industry let down by Labour

I raised the point earlier about our regions fishing supply and heritage which reminds me that the Executive by answering one of my Parliamentary questions showed the true extent of the damage that Labour has created to our Scottish Fishing Fleet. There figures about decommissioned fishing vessels hit home to us that under a Labour Government Scotland has lost an integral part of our history and economic prosperity. The sad fact is that 1092 vessels have been decommissioned is not just a lamentable statistic but we should remember that each one of those vessels decommissioned represents a human story of lost livelihood and to a certain extent a skill that could be lost to Scotland forever. My party has continually called for more to be done to support our fishing fleet and an SNP government would see those thoughts are put into action, instead of having a cow-toeing, weak willed Labour Government. Under an SNP Government Scotland’s fishing communities would have a loud and clear supportive voice.

5 September 2006

Back to Holyrood

Parliamentarians were back to work in Edinburgh this week after spending the summer recess (hopefully like myself) getting out and about seeing constituents in their own towns and villages. So we should all have come back with a sack load of concerns and problems from constituents that need addressing, the term ahead should be a busy one as we are now leading up to next May’s election. However before the elections there is a lot of work that needs to be finalised and health is always a major area that takes up a lot of parliamentary time, and with the recent stories circulating in the media about hospital cleanliness (or lack thereof), nurses' time pressure and hospital services closing the nation’s health will be paramount to future debates.

Drink and Drugs

On the subject of Scotland’s health the sad fact of our nations' chronic problem with drugs and alcohol was hit home recently with the release of figures which highlighted the deaths from these two vices has increased significantly since 1999. There has been a 20% rise in alcohol-related deaths since 1999. There has also been a rise in drug-related deaths - with fatalities involving heroin up by 25%. Unfortunately this means that there were 1,513 alcohol-related deaths across Scotland in 2005, we should remember that this figure is not just a statistic as each preventative death represents a lost human life, a father, a mother, a sister a bother lost due to drink.

The Lib-Lab government in Scotland must get a hold of the situation and find ways to tackle the root cause of alcohol and drugs abuse.

The fact that more people are dying from drink as well as drug related deaths should come as a stark warning that we have a lot of work still to do to combat Scotland's drink and drugs problems. The effects of both drugs and alcohol on our communities are plain to see up and down the country, not just on individuals who choose to take drugs or drink.

Next year an SNP Government will prioritise rehabilitation and counselling services for those with addictions and start to address the root cause of this growing problem, social deprivation, instead of sticking to a failed plan.

Christmas lights

I know that summer has just ended and that Christmas seems like a long way off, but for those that organise the preparations for the festivities that we all enjoy their planning has gotten underway in earnest for this years event. However I must admit that I am worried that there appears to be a lack of volunteers and businesses willing to help with the Christmas lights display for Banff. Too many people think that it is the Council that sorts the lights out, however this is not the case and it would seem that the same people are being relied upon year on year to manage the light display. I would like to appeal for local business to come forward and pledge their financial support to this years Christmas light fund, and I would also ask those of you that think you can help to offer your assistance to those you are volunteering this year. The Christmas lights may seem trivial to some but they not only brighten up dark winter days and nights for both children and adults but it is also a major selling point for the town This cause is deserving of our support and I intend to get behind the project.

Travel for young people

The Scottish Executive has gone back on it’s promise to give all students subsidised travel. The fact that a similar scheme which afforded free travel for all pensioners proved to be such a success this should encourage not dissuade the Executive in offering students with the chance to enjoy cheaper public transport.

The Executive’s own partnership accord committed Ministers to ensuring that all young people in full time education would gain a level of subsidised travel, however yet again ministers seem to be back-peddling over this promise.

They have done this by stating that subsidised travel will cover only those aged 16-18 and those, up to the age of 25, who are full-time volunteers. All other students over 18 will not get access to the scheme.

If this scheme is not given to every student it will be another blow to rural communities, our constituency will soon be the only one to have no rail or air link in Scotland. So to attract and retain young people the subsidised travel scheme would of course have helped in this regard.

Especially if we take into account the rising price of fuel, giving young and senior citizens the chance to use public transport more could stop many forms of exclusion, from Economic: if no alternative transport is available people have to pay for taxis which is expensive, it can also harm peoples chances of keeping a part-time job, which relies on flexi-time shifts. Social exclusion is also rife as a lack of transport will hamper people attending facilities such as swimming pools, banks, cinemas, libraries and doctor surgeries. This means people have a lack of choice; the stark reality is either stay at home, or pay large sums of money to enjoy some form of simple activity and/or attend an essential service/ appointment.

It is time for politicians and minister’s to stand by the decisions and promises that they make, no wonder people despair that you can’t trust a politician, I hope that my conduct as an MSP will have changed people’s view on this subject.

Stewart Stevenson
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