Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken out in Parliament about the essential role of food production in the isles economy, and reiterated calls for changes to animal transport rules to take the circumstances of the isles into account. Mr Carmichael highlighted the Scottish Government’s consultation on changes to transport regulations and warned that there would be severe impacts if allowances were not made for the isles.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Carmichael said:
“Food production has always been at the heart of the local economies in Orkney and Shetland. The designation of Orkney beef and Shetland lamb as protected geographic indicators is an indication of the quality of the produce for which we have been responsible over the years. In recent decades, we have seen a growth in producers who have been able to add value in a blossoming food and drink sector, which, in turn, has fed into a growing visitor economy, so it remains as important to the Northern Isles today as it always has been.
“In Orkney, we have a long history of producing finished cattle for Orkney beef. In Shetland, traditionally we produced cattle for the store market, but in recent years, by a bit of creativity and a lot of effort, local farmers in Shetland have also been able to produce finished cattle, which have been slaughtered for local consumption in our good, well operated local abattoir. It is an exemplar of how agriculture can feed into a rural or island economy such as ours.
“I want to mention one other matter of supreme importance to the production of food in the Northern Isles: the ability to export it to other parts of Scotland and the United Kingdom. The Scottish Government are currently undertaking a consultation on the transportation of animals. With a 12-hour journey from Shetland to Aberdeen, that could have very serious implications. Even the shorter journey from Orkney to Aberdeen would be severely affected.
“If, in the last year, we had operated under the wind speed and temperature restrictions that are currently under consultation by the Scottish Government, there would only have been two sailings allowed from Orkney to Aberdeen. It is the law of good intentions and unintended consequences in operation. The people who designed the system, which is currently regarded as being blue-chip, with industry-leading standards, were the farmers at the turn of the century, and they are the people who should be involved in the recreation of that system now.”