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Sunday, February 5, 2023

NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy’s New Year Message

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After one of the most volatile years on record, defined by the dreadful conflict in Ukraine, unprecedented input price increases and unsustainable output prices, 2023 must see the nation reset its priorities.

If we don’t refocus soon in terms of what’s important in life, then things will become unimaginably harder than what they are now.

If we learned one lesson from 2023, it is that we took our eye off the ball with energy security and have relied on others to produce it for us because it’s cheaper. 

We must not repeat that with food.

The saddest statistic I have seen yet is we spend the lowest amount of our income on food of any country in Europe.

Worse still, on a global scale, we are third from the bottom only above Indonesia and Singapore. 

Even with the current increases on shop shelves and food inflation, we are still only spending, on average, 14 per cent of our income on food, and that’s up from about 9 per cent two years ago. 

When you are taking something as vital as food security for granted, no wonder we waste so much of it as a nation.

This long running decline in the amount of money we spend on food and drink and the inherent imbalance in the supply chain is the reason why we, as farmers and crofters, have had to develop, adapt, use economy of scale, and centralise everything just to keep afloat.

The other startling statistic is that globally 44 per cent of people recognise locally produced food as being important. 

However, only 27 per cent in the UK think this is the case.

Education is now required at all levels, and, in Scotland, the Good Food Nation Bill presents an opportunity in 2023 to ensure a commitment at all levels of public procurement to underpin that local food message.

I’m not for one second saying we should turn back the clock. 

The innovation, technology, and animal welfare standards we now have are something to be incredibly proud of. 

What I am saying is that unless we start to recognise all of what local food delivers, then we will exacerbate the problem of climate change and biodiversity as no longer will we have the people on the land and a robust rural infrastructure to be part of the solution.

The global population has now hit eight billion, an increase of one billion in only 11 years. Food security is now on the global agenda.

The fact that we are sadly only 60% self-sufficient in food here in the UK is clearly significantly more than just an early warning of problems ahead.

In the last few weeks, we have seen the rationing of eggs, not because of bird flu as the British Retail Consortium would have the public believe. 

It is because, despite repeated warnings early in 2022, retailers crippled our farmers because of poor returns.

They didn’t listen but they must listen in 2023.

Shortages are solely at the door of retailers and poor returns to our primary producers and unless that changes soon then being able to enjoy fantastic locally grown soft fruit and veg will be the next product to be rationed, alongside home-produced pork which has already declined by 20 per cent in the past year.

This is also a rallying call to all our consumers who value our quality and standards of local food production in comparison to many imports. 

Imports may seem cheaper in the short term but, long term, walking out on domestic production will cause food inflation far greater than what we are seeing right now.

Scottish and UK farmers and crofters are proud of what we produce. 

Support us again in 2023, as you did throughout the pandemic, and we will continue to support you. 

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