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Vice President's Blog - 5 November 2019

Food security should be something that’s in everyone’s mind writes Vice President Martin Kennedy. 

Food security should be recognised for what it means.  It’s not just about having enough food, it’s also about how it’s produced and how much care and attention is given to create a product that’s all too often taken for granted. 

The devastating outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in China, and its rapid spread to other areas of the world must give us concern.  We, as consumers, must be very aware of the threat that this poses to our own production in Scotland and the rest of the UK. 

It is important to put things into perspective so we can understand the massive scale of this issue.

China has around 430 million pigs and they have already lost around 200 million to ASF.  Scotland’s total pig population is around 320,000.  This means that China would consume Scotland’s total pigmeat production for a year in around 8 hours. 

You may think that means Scotland doesn’t produce a lot, but the reality is that there is around 25% more weight of saleable meat produced from the pig sector in Scotland than there is of lamb. 

So, the scale of this is huge and if ASF was to enter the UK, we would be facing a massive shortfall in healthy protein. Scottish pig producers use somewhere in the region of 150,000t of cereals each year so the knock-on effect this would have on our cereal sector is considerable. As I’ve often said, the interdependency between sectors in Scotland is stark. 

With regard to biosecurity, the people in the pig industry are at the top of the tree as they take every precaution available to protect their herds - showering in and out of units, disinfectant areas for lorries and not allowing anyone who has not been thoroughly disinfected anywhere near their herd. 

Unfortunately, the biosecurity we have at our ports and airports leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to places like Australia, New Zealand and the USA. We don’t even have decent signs to advertise the fact that diseases such as ASF easily be brought into the country inadvertently. 

Governments must take this seriously and protect a production system that has world leading standards and delivers so much in terms of the economy, employment and above all, a reliable sustainable food source with fantastic environmental credentials. 

Everyone in the UK should have this in their mind when they shop. It’s a bit like the old crossing the road advert. 

Stop, Look and Listen. 

Stop - Stop just for a second or two and think about what you are buying. 

Look - Look at the label, I know it’s sometimes confusing but read it carefully. 

Listen - Listen to someone who will tell you the real facts about our food, not ill-informed activists with single agendas. 

We can all make a difference and sourcing our own products first will go a long way to protecting an industry that delivers so much. 

On the back of all this doom and gloom, quality nutritious protein from all our livestock sectors should see a rise in the price before too long.

It is sad that it takes an animal health disaster somewhere else in the world and others to suffer before we get any benefit. 

Future uncertainty with the upcoming election should encourage all of us to challenge political candidates to make sure all our sectors receive a meaningful share of the margin generated between farm and fork, because at the minute it’s certainly not meaningful. We should also push to get food production back on the educational curriculum to allow the truth to be told. 

We don’t want to be in a position where there’s nothing to put on our forks because political decisions have been made on the back of more votes rather than what should be in the best interest of the country. 

And this ASF situation is also a valuable reminder that if we did not have home production and loyalty to supplying home markets, the UK would be at the mercy of global prices in a crisis such as this.  Can you image what that would do for food prices here?

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