Food, Farming and our Environment.

sarah marketIt’s been a real pleasure to take part in hustings over the last few weeks with local community groups, residents and campaigners representing rural, farming, animal welfare, climate and environmental interests.

We need to tackle the underlying causes of food poverty, we need to repair the disconnect between food, our environment and farming, and we need fairness for producers and consumers.

The fact that more and more people are forced to rely on foodbanks is a scandal.  We need to address the high costs and low incomes that see people trapped in poverty.  We need to tackle the lack of availability of affordable nutritious food in low income communities, the high rents, cost of heating and low incomes that too many people experience.  While I’m a long time campaigner for the Living Wage I’ve been talking to more and more people in social care, retail and in the charity sector who’ve got a pay rise but their employer has cut their wages.  The recommendations in Naomi Eisenstadt’s report would take us some way to tackling the wider roots of poverty.

I welcome the initiative by the Scottish Food Coalition to campaign for shorter food chains, the use of public procurement, the use of public support through the Common Agricultural Policy payments for more environmentally based farming and for support for local growing initiatives in our urban communities.  They are all issues I and my Scottish Labour colleagues have been arguing for the SNP Government to be more radical on.

We have a Procurement Act which Labour members amended to enable organic, animal welfare to be used to drive up the quality of standards in our food procurement and to support local, freshly supplied food.  Local farmers markets and local procurement chains need to be strengthened if we are to get a better deal for our farmers and food producers too.

As a strong supporter of Fairtrade principles for low income farmers in developing countries I think we need to apply some of those principles closer to home.  The ongoing dairy crisis is seeing dairy farmers being paid less than it costs to produce milk.

The next Scottish Parliament is the chance to create a fairer more sustainable system.  We should pay our farmers for results, for food that has been produced with environmental stewardship principles and a higher level of organic production, support for tree planting and farming that will help with flood management and to retain the animal welfare principles that are important for human health and well being too.

Principles of fairness need to apply in farming too.  International trade Agreements like TTIP will undermine health and safety farm wages and environmental standards.  We need the Agricultural Wages Board to retain decent wages in the farming and horticultural industries, not consult as the SNP government have now done twice to abolish it.

The last year has seen a perfect storm in our farming and crofting communities with the SNP government’s botched IT system, flooding and intense rain, and the volatility of commodity markets.  Farm business income figures for last year fell by 26% to their lowest level since 2009 and half of Scotland’s farmers are now working for less than the minimum wage while farm rents paid to landlords have increased above the rate of inflation according to figures released by the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association.

Scottish Labour believes that we need political leadership to deliver shorter, more local food chains and a new statutory Scottish Food Commission to deliver the transformational change we need for our farming and crofting communities so reliant on farming and the management of our land.

In our urban communities too we want to see change too.  More community growing and community garden initiatives to build on the existing allotments we have.  We know they are good for people’s health and wellbeing.  We need to connect them directly into an anti poverty and empowerment agenda if we are to tackle the growing food inequalities in our society.