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Comment: creating a sustainable food and drink industry - Mairi Gougeon

Holyrood

Comment: creating a sustainable food and drink industry - Mairi Gougeon

The rural affairs minister on how food and drink producers are cutting waste and emissions

The food and drink industry is the second largest contributor to Scotland’s economy, employing 122,000 people across the country and worth almost £15 billion each year. 

Globally, Scotland is recognised for growing and making some of the most iconic food and drink products in the world, from Scotch Whisky, gin and salmon to Stornoway Black Pudding, strawberries, Ayrshire Early Potatoes and, of course, shortbread. 

As producers, manufacturers and consumers, it is increasingly important that we recognise the significant role this industry plays in all our lives. And today, more than ever, it is vital that discussions about food and drink are set in the context of the global climate emergency. 

Scotland’s world-leading climate change legislation sets a target date for net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045. We know that our environment and economy are intrinsically linked, and Scotland’s transition to a more prosperous, net-zero emissions economy depends on everyone changing and adapting. 

A key issue for all of us is thinking about how we use and reuse materials and how we handle waste. In our climate change plan, we have committed to reducing Scotland’s food waste by 33 per cent by 2025. I am pleased to say that throughout Scotland there are great examples showing that the food and drink sector is also responding to the challenge, leading the way and doing its bit to tackle climate change and protect the environment.

For example, Edinburgh-based bakery Stoats, which makes porridge and oat bars, recycles 94 per cent of its waste and recently revealed a revamp of its packaging which is now 100 per cent recyclable or compostable. Meanwhile, family-owned manufacturer Border Biscuits has removed 90 per cent of plastic from its packaging which now features recyclable cardboard. It has also reduced the overall weight of the packaging of its most popular products by 50 per cent, meaning that double the amount of biscuits fit on to a single pallet, further reducing the company’s carbon footprint.

Food miles is an area where we as consumers have the power to make small choices that make a big difference. Shopping local and buying Scottish whenever possible not only means that you are supporting local food and drink producers, it also reduces your environmental footprint. 

Every year Scotland produces enough oats to provide 647 bowls of porridge per person in Scotland and last year, strawberry production could have provided every person with 563 strawberries. We are fortunate to live in a country that grows some of the best produce in the world, so I would urge everyone to make the most of it. 

Independent and family-owned businesses have always been key to consumers buying local products, so I am proud that the Scottish Government continues to recognise their importance and to offer support. 

I recently visited Tasnim and Mohamed Helmi’s Syrian patisserie on the Isle of Bute, one of 34 independent and family-run bakers across Scotland benefitting from a share of £125,000 of Scottish Government funding to help small food retailers face the challenges posed by bigger chains. Specifically, the funding was aimed at helping small bakery businesses reduce waste and make their facilities more energy efficient, with the double benefit of reducing costs while contributing to Scotland’s climate-change ambitions. 

The bakery I visited was awarded £5,000 and used the funds to purchase new mixing equipment and an energy-saving coffee machine. It was wonderful to see first-hand the impact this scheme is having, not just on the owners of the business, but on the local community as well.

The Scottish Government has also funded a similar food-to-go grant scheme aimed at independent convenience store retailers, helping businesses focus on locally sourced products and manage waste.

Farming and food production also has a vital role to play in tackling climate change and it is great to see our agricultural industry has already made progress. By adopting low carbon farming practices and technologies, the sector has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 29.4 per cent since 1990 and continues to make progress through the planting of trees, restoring peatlands, and renewable energy generation.

By reducing food miles, removing plastic from packaging, switching to energy-saving practices and appliances and reducing or recycling waste, the food and drink industry in Scotland is taking important steps to address the climate-change emergency. There is still work to do, but pioneers in the industry have shown that through innovative design, creative thinking and bold choices, it is possible to make a real difference. 

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