Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken in support of isles produce in a parliamentary debate on the contribution of food and drink to the UK economy. Mr Carmichael highlighted the need for reform of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to better support farmers, the ongoing Scottish Government consultation on live animal transport which may have a severe impact on the isles, and the need for better protection for geographic indicator (GI) products such as Orkney beef or Shetland lamb.
Speaking during the debate Mr Carmichael said:
“To our local economies in Orkney and Shetland, food and drink production is absolutely critical and essential. Orkney has Orkney beef and Orkney lamb, and Shetland has Shetland lamb. Shetland is one of the largest and finest seafood-producing ports in the country, producing Shetland shellfish, as well as our substantial aquaculture industry, which produces salmon in particular. It has been fascinating to see that grow over the years. That growth brings with it myriad small artisan producers, critical to the success of our local economy.
“As a consequence of the quality of local food produce in Orkney and Shetland, we have seen a significant growth in the visitor economy. I often feel that growth has been achieved despite rather than because of Government intervention. Orkney, which is one of the best suckler beef-producing counties in the country, has seen its abattoir regulated out of existence.”
Mr Carmichael highlighted the need for reform of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to rebalance the power divide between farmers and supermarkets:
“I come from and was raised in a meat-producing community. The consolidation of abattoirs into large central points is part of that whole process. That did not happen by accident; it was a consequence of the dominance of the supermarkets as the customers for food production in this country. Until we level the playing field between the producers and the supermarkets—we need to give proper powers to the Groceries Code Adjudicator—nothing will change.”
He went on to discuss the ongoing Scottish Government consultation on live animal transportation which could severely impact livestock producers in the isles:
“At the moment, we have a consultation from the Scottish Government about the transportation of live animals by sea. If the proposals under consultation were to go ahead, we would see a massive reduction in the number of days on which we could ship cattle off the islands. The way in which cattle are shipped from Orkney and Shetland was designed by local farmers along with Ministry vets and the shipping companies some 20 years ago, and is the gold standard in animal transportation, but that consultation, were it to be followed through by the SNP-Green Administration, would be an existential threat to agriculture in the Northern Isles.”
“I will touch briefly on protected geographical indications [PGIs]. The conclusion recently of the Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein deals is causing concern among many food producers. The absence of protection for PGIs, which are very important to us in the Northern Isles, for our export markets is causing concern. The danger is that, if we allow a provision in one deal, those who come along the line later on will want to follow.”