Agricultural transition in Scotland - first steps towards our national policy: consultation analysis

Analysis of the responses received to the Agricultural Transition in Scotland consultation. The consultation was carried out between August 2021 and November 2021.

10. Supply Chains

This chapter examines respondents' views on the green credentials of Scottish produce and the potential role of farm assurance in the future.

Q9.1: How can the green credentials of Scottish produce be further developed and enhanced to provide reassurance to both businesses and consumers?

Q9.1 received 274 responses. The most common themes were: shortening supply chains; encouraging consumers to shop locally; and having clear, transparent product labelling.

Shorter supply chains

Calls for a shorter supply chain was the most prevalent theme among responses to Q9.1. Respondents argued this would encourage food production and consumption to centre on local suppliers home grown produce, and greatly reduce the demand for imported goods. A need for transparency and traceability in the supply chain to highlight green credentials was emphasised.

"Scotland's produce, supply chains must be short and transparent. The climate importance of local food is often underestimated because transport emissions are the only metric used to measure this. However, local sales also tend to involve significantly less processing, packaging, refrigeration and waste. In addition, shorter supply chains can ensure standards of production are high in terms of other factors such as conditions for workers and animal welfare." - CSA Network UK

Changing consumer behaviour

Many respondents described how changing consumer behaviour will be crucial in improving the green credentials of Scottish produce. Comments from mostly individuals and a range of organistions described different ways this could be done:

  • A common suggestion was for the Scottish Government to embark on a nationwide campaign to encourage consumers to purchase more locally grown produce and reduce their consumption of imported goods. Some felt it was important to encourage the public to adopt a more 'seasonal' diet, with more understanding of what products are available at particular times of year, and adjustments of expectations and demand.
  • Several called for clear product labelling to show consumers the air miles and carbon footprint associated with products. Respondents felt this would encourage consumers to make more 'green' decisions when shopping.
  • There were calls for more education around the environmental benefits of buying local produce. A few expressed a view that consumers need to be educated on the environmental cost of importing goods which cannot be grown locally.
  • One respondent suggested introducing a tax on imported foods.

"Incorporation of accurate (and independently verified) [Greenhouse Gas] emissions figures as a prominent part of food labelling and marketing would provide reassurance to consumers and help drive both behaviour change and emissions reductions." - Community Woodlands Association

However, some discussed the challenges of changing consumer behaviour, noting that consumption is often motivated by price and the difficulties in convincing consumers to opt for more expensive local produce over cheaper imports.

Changes to farming practices

Some respondents called for changes to existing farming practices such as reduced pesticide, herbicide and chemical use, committing to regenerative systems of soils management and food production and using less intensive farming systems.

Organic farming was supported by some, who described how this would benefit the climate, public health, biodiversity and air, water and soil quality. There were calls for Scottish Government investment to support farmers to transition to organic farming.

Public sector procurement

Some respondents felt that public sector procurement could be used to develop the green credentials of Scottish produce. They argued that public bodies' buying power can influence producers, for example by ensuring that contracts are only awarded to suppliers who commit to set eco-friendly and sustainable practices.

Other themes

The consultation paper suggested that action is required by the whole food supply chain, not just primary producers. This view was endorsed by some respondents, who described how co-operatives and greater collaboration could enhance the green credentials of Scottish produce.

Others noted that farm assurance schemes which set high environmental standards can be used to develop the green credentials of Scottish produce. More detail on respondents' views on farm assurance is included under Question 9.2 below.

Q9.2: Should farm assurance be linked to requirements for future support?

Q9.2: Should farm assurance be linked to requirements for future support?
Among all (314) Yes No Don't know No answer No. of comments
Number 114 95 82 23 224
% 36% 30% 26% 7%  

Over a third of respondents (36%) agreed that farm assurance should be linked to requirements for future publicly funded support. A similar portion (30%) disagreed, and the remainder were either unsure (26%) or did not answer (7%). Q9.2 received 224 open comments in which mixed views about farm assurance were shared.

Benefits of farm assurance

The most common theme in responses to Q9.2 was the benefits of gaining farm assurance. Many respondents explained that farm assurance schemes ensure compliance with high standards of food quality, health and safety, animal welfare and environmental practices. A few noted that assurance schemes require regular inspections which encourage the maintenance of high standards. Some argued that assurance schemes lead to higher consumer confidence and provide a competitive edge for accredited farms.

"The discipline of adhering to an accepted farm assurance protocol will ensure that standards are being maintained. They also provide reassurance to the consumer of the credibility of Scottish produce." – Individual

"Farm assurance has been an essential tool in regulating production processes across the industry for the past 20 years or more. Without these schemes, processors would have imposed even more of their own standards and created a bureaucratic nightmare for growers. It is vital that all growers producing for the food chain realise the importance of standardised assurance schemes." – Scottish Agronomy Ltd.

Others supported the proposal as they felt it would ensure a level of accountability over public funding, giving the public confidence that farms which receive financial support are committed to meeting high quality produce, animal welfare and environmental standards.

Calls for farm assurance schemes to be strengthened

Several respondents expressed a view that farm assurance schemes only require compliance with minimum standards and baseline regulations. Their support for the proposal to link support to assurance was conditional on farm assurance schemes being made more robust and having a wider range of requirements. For example, some felt that farm assurance should require higher standards of food quality, animal welfare, sustainability and emissions reduction than the regulatory baseline.

Criticisms of farm assurance

Criticism of existing farm assurance schemes were shared by several respondents, who described them as inadequate, lacking credibility and ineffectual at assuring product quality. Some felt that registering with a farm assurance scheme was a hollow gesture or a tick box exercise. A few described the entire farm assurance system as in need of reform.

"It's largely meaningless in terms of quality or how the land is managed." – Individual

Cost and burden of accreditation

Attention was drawn to the expensive and resource-intensive process of successfully registering with farm assurance schemes. Some feared a greater emphasis on farm assurance would put a strain on smaller farms, who would need to commit significant costs and time to become accredited. A few requested that schemes should be made more affordable and less burdensome, or that there should be exemptions made and discretion afforded to smaller units.

"Small farm businesses may face proportionally higher costs of participation in farm assurance scheme." - NatureScot

Other reasons for disagreement

A few respondents opposed linking farm assurance to future support as they saw it as an unwelcome layer of bureaucracy for farmers. Others expressed opposition to any punitive approaches where those who do not register with farm assurance schemes are denied access to public funding; they argued an incentive-based model would be more successful. Some firmly believed that farm assurance programmes should remain voluntary and without consequence for those who do not participate.

In these comments, other ways of ensuring quality produce and compliance with standards were suggested, including introducing a mandatory labelling scheme and greater involvement from local authority welfare officers e.g. conducting more regular inspections.

Need for simplicity and streamlining

Some stressed the importance of making farm assurance simple for consumers and producers to understand. A few commented on how many different farm assurance schemes there are and suggested combining different standards into one, streamlining the process and simplifying labelling for consumers.

"'Farm assurance' is such a woolly concept now as there are so many variations. We need a robust nation wide system that we can all positively sign up to." - Individual

Less commonly mentioned themes

  • A few respondents called for greater support for farmers to register for farm assurance schemes if it were to be linked to access to public support.
  • Some respondents said that they did not understand the question, expressing confusion over what was meant by farm assurance or future support.
  • There was some discussion about specific farm assurances schemes. Respondents expressed mixed views, with some schemes described favourably and others attracting criticism.



Back to top