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Publication - Research and analysis

Citizens' forums, and attitudes to agriculture, environment and rural priorities: research report

Published: 17 Jun 2019
Agriculture and Rural Delivery Directorate

Results of an independent study into Scottish public attitudes to the environment, agriculture and rural development.

167 page PDF

2.5 MB

167 page PDF

2.5 MB

Citizens' forums, and attitudes to agriculture, environment and rural priorities: research report
Appendix B: Qualitative interview findings

167 page PDF

2.5 MB

Appendix B: Qualitative interview findings

The research involved in-depth interviews with 15 participants with a range of characteristics, the demographic profile of the sample is shown below.

Interview number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Special diets

Qualitative research findings

Views on food consumption

Participants spontaneously cited a range of factors when making decisions about their food consumption; among these, the most dominant factors were specific dietary requirements, attitudes towards the authenticity of food, cost and availability. Each of these aspects is discussed in turn.

Specific dietary requirements were a common factor underpinning participant's choices about their food consumption, which is perhaps unsurprising given that this was a quota variable in the selection of participants. Specific diets encompassed those on gluten-free diets who were restricted to the gluten-free options available in supermarkets; taste, option and cost of food were also seen to be affected by the gluten-free diet factor.

"There is one shelf which stocks gluten free options and the bread doesn't taste that good either" (Interview 2)

"I'm severely gluten intolerant so I have to be careful with what I'm eating…I always check the labels" (Interview 9)

In a similar vein, those with specific food allergies and intolerances described the difficulties of checking food items for certain ingredients and cited a reliance on eating fresher food options as they contained less additives and gave them more control in terms of what they were consuming. While this was seen to be the "healthier option", there was the view that these food items tend to be more expensive than frozen and canned foods which are more cost-effective for larger families.

In contrast to those who described having to adopt specific diets because of their allergies or intolerances, there were also those who willingly adopted specific diets, such as dairy free, or sugar free, as a measure to improve their health. Those on such diets were consuming alternatives such as sugar free options, and almond or coconut milk. Indeed, those in this category described their diet more in terms of choice; this was in part related to income, as those who willingly made changes to their diet this way were typically of the ABC1 social grade category.

There were also those who adopted specific diets based on their cultural, religious and environmental views.

For instance, vegan and vegetarian dietary preferences stemmed from attitudes towards animal welfare and environmental concerns regarding the impact of food production on the environment.

"I wouldn't eat anything that I wouldn't kill myself" (Interview 10)

"The whole mass production system is unsustainable; we are feeding animals to kill them to feed us" (Interview 5)

Climate change was commonly mentioned by those on vegan and vegetarian diets. There was specific mention of the methane gases released by animals in the air, which is a contributing factor to climate change, but also the vast use of land assets, and water and air pollution caused by animal farming. There was the view, that the vast consumer demand for meat, particularly red meat by fast food chains, had resulted in vast arrays of farmland being used to rear cows instead of growing crops and had also led to deforestation by placing competing demands on Scottish green land.

While environmental concerns were specific to the subset of the sample on a vegan or vegetarian diet, the issue of animal welfare was cited more generally. Recent media coverage[79] of the treatment of animals on Scottish farms was cited by participants and may have resulted in the heightened consciousness of animal welfare. Among those who consumed meat, eggs, fish, there was a preference to learn more information about the treatment of the animal, specifically, there was appetite to learn where the animal had been reared, what it had been fed, and how it was treated on the farm. In terms of eggs, there was a preference to consume "free-range".

"I feel guilty about killing wee lambs for eating" (Interview 7)

"There are farms where they massage animals, play music for them, and feed them hay, this makes the meat better quality as there are less toxins and fat" (Interview 1)

Among those who were concerned about animal welfare there was a preference for locally sourced "Scottish" meat as there was a view that this would be better quality and you could more readily obtain information about the treatment of the animal.

Those on Halal and Kosher diets also discussed animal welfare but in terms specific to their religious beliefs. Among those on both Halal and Kosher diets, there was mention of the restrictions on the consumption of pork as pigs were seen to be an "unclean animal". Halal and Kosher meat signified health, cleanliness and certain animal welfare conditions being met for those on these diets. Moreover, there was the view that the slaughtering process specific to the Islamic belief system was more humane as it was quicker, leading to less pain for the animal.

Apart from the meat consumption aspect for those on these diets, there was mention of specific oils, spices, and ingredients which were frequently used in the preparation of food. These items were commonly purchased in the Halal and Kosher food shops; having said that, there was mention of supermarket chains such as Tesco and Morrisons having "world food isles" which stock some of these items.

A lesser mentioned view was in relation to social concerns around the production of food, "free trade" logos were cited by a small number of participants. Among this subset, there was a global perspective of food production which recognised farmers within developing countries as important players within the food chain. There was a reflection that while there is a preference to consume locally sourced produce, this should not be to the detriment of food sourced from developing countries who rely on selling their produce on international markets. There was also the view that the vast amount of food wasted in Scotland would be "nuggets of gold" for some people in developing countries.

Another common factor mentioned spontaneously by participants was authenticity, although it was not described specifically this way and was seen as a wider quality issue. One aspect of authenticity was a lack of trust in the labelling of food, this was particularly felt with regards to organic food which was conceived as "just a name", "just words for the farming community" and a" marketing ploy"; there was also concern regarding the origin of produce labelling.

"I worked in a hen rescue and from this experience I can say that organic is not real" (Interview 5)

"A pig can be labelled as from the UK, when it has actually been in the UK for two days, and been farmed in Romania" (Interview 4)

When discussing authenticity, participants commonly cited the "horsemeat scandal" and expressed concern in the lack of knowledge of what they were eating - for instance, one participant gave the example of questioning if there were purchasing 100% chicken breast or whether it was filled with water. In this respect, participants expressed feeling a loss of control to the supermarket and wider food manufacturing processes in terms of determining what was available to them to eat.

Another aspect of food authenticity was the enhancement of food with chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. Indeed, these chemicals were a source of worry for participants. There was a recognition that some of these enhancements to food were driven by consumer demand for aesthetically pleasing food, and longer sell by dates. There was a view that this demand had led to a decrease in the costs of some less aesthetically pleasing produce such as "wonky vegetables" and a premium cost for enhanced foods. To a lesser extent, genetic modification of food was discussed in the interviews, among those who did cite this as a concern, there was a view that this was unsafe for consumers. Overall, there was a perception that issues related to authenticity and quality standards would worsen after Brexit.

Cost and availability as a factor in food consumption tended to go hand in hand in the research. There was a view that cost was a limiting factor in purchasing fresher foods; and there was a limited availability of these fresher foods within specific neighbourhoods.

"I want to make a fresh salad for lunch, but the variety of ingredients needed make it expensive to put together" (Interview 8)

"If you are in a deprived postcode then the local shops are stocked with alcohol and crisps" (Interview 3)

"Readymade food is cheaper and then you don't have the added fuel costs in preparing the food" (Interview 4)

The availability of certain types of food was exacerbated for those living in rural communities. There was mention of limited availability of shops in the area, and a reliance on public transport to reach these shops or on online shopping which can be costlier. In terms of small commuter towns there was a perception that there was a lack of shops in the area as residents typically travel to nearby urban areas where they do most of their shopping. On the other hand, for those living in island communities, there was mention of the impact of changes to the ferry schedules which is frequent in bad weather on the supply of food from the mainland. This led to "panic-buying" and shops often running out of stock for basic supplies.

"There are changes being made to the bus schedules which will mean that it will take 1 hour to get to the nearest supermarket and a slow service on Sundays" (Interview 3)

"Last year the ferry didn't sail for three days and we didn't have any milk. We normally stock up on food in the chest freezer but sometimes the shops run out" (Interview 12)

In terms of prioritising the range of factors mentioned, participants tended to prioritise their specific diet e.g. veganism, vegetarianism, halal, kosher or their allergy or intolerance as the paramount factor in determining their food consumption. Participants who did not self-identify in any of these categories prioritised practical considerations mostly cost and quality in their decisions. Personal factors such as knowledge, skills, household composition and time, were less frequently mentioned by participants.

Perceptions of agriculture, environment, and rural priorities

Building on the conversations around food consumption, participants had already alluded to some of the key priorities for Scottish agriculture which are discussed in more detail in this section, as well as those pertaining to the environment and rural development.

Agriculture Priorities

Overall the agricultural sector was viewed positively by participants as they commonly ascribed value to "local" and "Scottish" agricultural produce.

Pertinently, however, there were several issues related to the agricultural sector raised by participants and within this context, Brexit was spontaneously mentioned. For most part, the impacts of Brexit were perceived to have a negative impact on Scottish agriculture. Food security, and the availability of certain types of imported foods was commonly mentioned as a priority for the sector. There was recognition that Scottish agriculture in and of itself is not sustainable and there is a reliance on food commodities from the Continent; the free flow of which would be affected by the withdrawal from the Common Market.

"It is imperative that Scotland has some sort of European Free Trade Agreement to create a good environment for the trade of food products because we can't grow everything here" (Interview 10)

"Exports that took minutes will take longer which makes it impossible for perishable foods" (Interview 4)

Brexit was not only seen to affect the availability of certain food items but also the respective cost of these items.

"Serrano and Manchego (Spanish restaurant in Edinburgh) has closed down because they get all their ingredients from Spain…. Brexit will mean that small shops that sell foreign items will have to shut down" (Interview 6)

There was also the issue of food quality standards and a concern that these would decrease after Brexit as the EU has stringent conditions on quality and labelling. In addition to this, there was a perception that the available funding for research and innovation in the agricultural sector and grant funding to subsidise farmers would decline - particularly given the period of "austerity" facing the UK.

Related to concerns around sustainability, there was spontaneous mention of the low income of farmers which was seen as a risk for the farming profession in Scotland. Participants who resided in proximity to farmland, cited anecdotes of the decline of farms in their area or of farms having lesser staff than in previous years. There was also the view that the profession is susceptible to risks arising from poor weather, or disease, which can lead to a further decline in the income of farmers.

"Farmers can go bankrupt if there are issues with the food stock, like foot and mouth, mad cow disease" (Interview 2)

Moreover, participants raised concerns related to workforce sustainability for Scottish agriculture - although this did not relate to non-UK EU workers. Rather, there was a recognition that young people do not consider farming as a desirable profession which will in turn affect new entrants to the industry and will lead to labour issues.

"The newer generation don't want to get up at 5am and get their hands dirty working the land, they are frightened of hard work" (Interview 11)

Having said that, it should be noted that these sympathies for the farming profession were by no means universal, and there was also the view particularly among those who are environmentally conscious, that farmers are over compensated for losses to their crops and that they could be doing much more to protect the environment and to advance animal welfare conditions.

"I'm cynical of farmers…they are quite well-off and get sympathy in the media - "those poor farmers who have lost their crops" and folk run to help them" (Interview 5)

"Farmers and crofters have the skills to grow crops and rear animals, they should be encouraged to protect the environment" (Interview 3)

Reflecting the importance of quality and authenticity for participants, there was an acute perception of the use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. There was a view that the overuse of chemicals was used to compensate poor farming practices which did not adequately cultivate the land. The use of chemicals was also precipitated through a "race-to-the-bottom" view that consumers want the largest quantity for the lowest prices. While farming practices were seen to affect the quality of food, there was also a recognition that supermarkets and industrial food manufacturers have a role to play. More specifically, there was a view that additional ingredients are added to food to increase the quantity and weight of the produce.

Animal welfare was also mentioned as a priority for agriculture. There were various degrees of concern around this, whereas some cited RSPCA labelling as an important reassurance regarding the treatment of animals, others wholly expressed disapproval of animal farming because of cruelty to animals. A lesser mentioned view was that the standards for animal slaughtering are protected in European law and the period of uncertainty related to new legislation coming into place may result in a decrease in standards.

"As a vegan I don't support animal farming because of the whole animal cruelty aspect, and the costs to the planet… I think farming should concentrate on growing a variety of different fruit and veg" (Interview 10)

Environment Priorities

Among the three areas covered by CAP, the environment was less commonly discussed in the research. The term sustainability was conventionally used in discussions about priorities for agriculture, however participants did not make the link with environmental protections as a means to achieving sustainability. This was because sustainability was conceived in narrow terms as the ability to continue producing the food products that we consume so was seen as a food security issue.

For those for whom the environment was important there was a deep knowledge of the subject and a view that it should be higher on the agenda particularly as it is intertwined with both agriculture and rural development. To this end, there was a view that the environment should underpin the way we think about agriculture and rural development.

"Environmental issues should be the top concern for agriculture" (Interview 2)

To illustrate the relationship between these elements, participants described a number of processes. For instance, there was mention of how animals are often given steroids and chemicals which mean that they release gases in the air affecting air quality, and climate change; there is also the issue of farming waste and chemicals running into fresh water supplies affecting water quality. Climate change is in turn having an impact on the weather conditions which are affecting food harvests. There was also specific mention of species like bees and bats that are important as pollinators that fertilise plants.

With respect to rural development, there was a recognition of the wide range of assets - including scenic landscapes, rivers, canals. There was a recognition that there are competing demands for agricultural land, emphasising the importance of conserving the green belt to protect rural assets and using this land and water for alternative energy resources such as wind, solar and hydro power.

"Optimal food production is dependent on a multitude of factors such as habitat, ecological environment and the nature of the farmland" (Interview 4)

"Bumble bees are dying out in Lewis and Harris; we need them as pollinators for the next generation of plants" (Interview 12)

When thinking about the responsibility for protecting the environment, the issue of pollution from farms was commonly discussed. There were mixed attitudes regarding this issue, while some felt that farmers should take measures to minimise pollution, others argued that pollution was inevitable from farms, and that the focus should be oriented towards supermarkets and the industrial processes used by food manufacturers.

"Farming has been done for thousands of years, global warming is an issue of the last 100-150 years, to blame farming is to scapegoat the issue" (Interview 11)

"Climate change is a global problem and will drastically change agriculture, but who makes policy on that, who regulates that?" (Interview 9)

Plastic packaging of food produce was also spontaneously raised by participants as an environmental concern. It was felt that supermarkets and food manufacturers package almost all items in plastics, and that they should be encouraged to adopt alternatives such as paper bags and reinforced cardboard for packaging fruit and vegetables.

"I try to buy loose vegetables, but a bag of three peppers is cheaper than the loose single peppers" (Interview 15)

While participants who were environmentally conscious cited measures that they were personally adopting to protect the environment such as reducing their meat intake, purchasing loose unpackaged food and recycling, overall, there was a perception that supermarkets, food manufacturers and farmers were responsible for taking steps to protect the environment.

Rural development priorities

There were several priorities for rural development raised in the research. It is worth noting that there were no differences between urban/rural in terms of considering rural development as a priority. However, there was a view among those in urban areas that some differences between urban and rural areas were inevitable and that those living in these areas were doing so out of choice.

"people make a choice to live in the middle of nowhere, but you also want to make sure they are not disenfranchised and completely cut-off" (Interview 10)

Provision of services was a prevalent theme in the research. Transport provision was commonly seen to be limited in rural areas, and there were specific issues related to infrequent bus and train services, and disruptions to ferry services.

"The system relies on old buses which don't service all of the routes and break down quite a bit" (Interview 2)

There was a view that the limited availability of public transport creates a reliance on cars which in turn affects the environment - although there was a lesser mentioned view that four-by-four cars were a necessity to get around in remote rural locations.

In addition to transport services, there was mention of service closure such as banks, post offices, out of hours hospitals, and schools. There was a perception that limited service provision stemmed from the low population density in these areas as population numbers are needed to justify service provision.

"The RBS bank has closed down, which means there are less ATMs which are needed by tourists" (Interview 3)

"Rural areas need to have people living there at the right age (young people) so they need schools, internet, roads, and a transportation system" (Interview 4)

One participant discussed the development of Euro Park in Calder bank Village as an example of a housing development being built on green belt. There was the view that, as it is bringing affordable housing for many people, a hospital and school is being built alongside the development. Indeed, there was an implicit assumption that these services would not be available if the development was not being constructed.

With respect to schools, however, the University of Highlands and Islands campuses were seen as a positive development as well as the distance learning courses offered by the institution.

There was also specific mention of a lack of health and social care services in rural areas - one participant discussed moving from a rural to an urban location to be able to receive the care package she required. There was a perception that disabled homes were few in rural areas, and therefore "stuck out, and become centres for anti-social behaviour".

"I run an anti-smoking service but there is no funding to run this type of clinic for rural communities… they have health problems and issues with alcoholism" (Interview 5)

In addition to service provision, there was the issue of electricity shortages and poor communication infrastructure such as mobile connectivity and broadband. One participant mentioned, that there is only 2G network coverage in some parts of Skye.

"The electric cables run from Ulapool to the Island and the electricity goes off more often than when we had our own electricity plant… sometimes the whole island has no electricity" (Interview 12)

Moreover, while participants in rural areas did not self-identify as being in poverty, there was a perception that there were high levels of unemployment in rural areas and thus a reliance on the welfare system. Conversely, those in urban areas recognised that there is often a difference in wages between those living in urban and rural areas, however there was a caveat that the cost of living might be lower in rural areas, thus in part justifying the differences.

There was the view that high levels of unemployment in rural areas stemmed from a lack of jobs in these areas, one participant discussed having to show 35 hours of job searches related to claiming universal credit, which was not feasible as there was a limited availability of jobs. Discussions around the lack of jobs was couched in descriptions in the decline in industry jobs, and a lack of consequent regeneration of the local economy. Having said that there was a recognition of tourism as a means to stimulate rural economies, although this was seen to have both positive and negative impacts on communities.

Priorities for future policy

Overall, there were mixed views in relation to priorities for future policy, bearing in mind the legacy of CAP. The research identified broad support for continuing subsidies for farmers, but also found support for some reallocation of spending to the environmental and rural development priorities identified by participants.

There was a view that farmers should continue to be subsidised as they are important in terms of producing the food and drink that we consume, and as such are providing a vital public service. This was reinforced by the perspective that farmers have low incomes and are working hard for little return, thus there should be an incentive in place to ensure continuity of the profession.

"If the subsidy is removed it won't make sense for farmers to work hard to earn less than the minimum wage, they would rather sell their farmland to be used as a caravan park" (Interview 4)

It should be noted, however, that this view was not universally accepted in the research, and those in professions such as the NHS and social care, did not accept the subsidy provided to farmers as an equivalent was not in place for their profession which also provide an important public service.

Nonetheless, some participants differentiated farming from other industries which are subject to fluctuations in their earnings as there was a view that farmers have little control in terms of their product, pricing, and marketplace. For instance, what they are able to grow is dependent on the nature of their farmland and prices are often set by supermarkets which were seen to have a "stranglehold on farmers" in terms of keeping prices low. There was also the view that if there was a minimum pricing structure in place which adequately compensated farmers for their produce, then the subsidy would not be required.

Moreover, there was a perception that Scottish farmers will become even more important after Brexit because food security will become a more pertinent issue, therefore justifying the continuation of the subsidy. There was a widespread view that Scotland/the UK should find ways to become more self-sufficient. This was important as it was felt that imported produce will become more expensive after Brexit, so there would be an increasing reliance on local produce.

"Food security is important and it's hard to get it back once we lose it…the writing is on the wall, normally the status quo is not a preferable option, but when it comes down to securing what we eat, then we need to maintain the subsidy" (Interview 10)

"Issues affecting farmers will have a domino effect on consumers" (Interview 2)

There was a view that low productivity stemmed from underfunding and a lack of investment in services; therefore, if we want to have sustainable and efficient food production system then we need to keep the subsidy in place - this may even increase the current 1% GVA from agriculture in Scotland.

In terms of the direct payment, there were mixed views in terms of whether the payments should be based on the size of the farmland, while some felt that this was an indication of the level of production and should be kept in place, others did not see this link and felt that subsidies should be based on the type of agricultural produce and how important that was in terms of the range of food products needed for sustainability and variety. There was also a suggestion that higher payments should be made to smaller farms and those who employ a high number of staff as they are providing a source of employment in rural areas.

A lesser mentioned view was that the subsidies should be targeted and used to encourage farming practices that protect the environment, animal welfare and the highest quality, and range of agriculture produce.

"I can't stop animal farming altogether because people still want to consume meat, so we should look at making sure animals are treated the best possible way…we could look at getting more slaughter houses, so animals aren't in the back of a truck for 8 hours or being shipped to France" (Interview 15)

The point about targeting subsidies stemmed from the view that the policies of the CAP created a "broad brush approach" which led to poor quality farming for large quantities of commercial produce which inhibited variety in farming. Those who prioritised food security and sustainability commented that there should be an overarching food policy to organise and manage food production in Scotland. This would involve creating a food map to locate "where can we get certain types of goods and where is its optimal value to grow them".

In relation to making the profession more efficient and with a view to longer-term planning, there was the suggestion that funding on agriculture should also be allocated to finding innovations to current farming practices and identifying new techniques to grow the products that we need.

"If all the money goes to cover the farmers losses then we don't solve anything, we could invest in growing something else" (Interview 12)

There was specific mention of Polly-tunnels, urban gardening and vertical farming practices in this respect. Reflecting the discussions about workforce, there was also mention of education provision in farming and agriculture to encourage new entrants but also to develop the skills of the existing workforce.

While there was broad support for subsidising farmers; there was also appetite for reallocating the funding split between the three areas of policy - agriculture, environment and rural development.

Reflecting the holistic approach to how the three aspects of policy are intertwined, it was felt that environmental protections should underpin agriculture and rural development by protecting biodiversity, reducing pollution, using alternative energy resources in the manufacturing of food, and protecting green spaces, rural landscapes and rivers.

Participants expressed the view that food production will have to change to adapt to climate change - therefore, environmental projects should underpin future policy. This would encompass reducing overall meat production, but also placing an emphasis on the wider industrial food manufacturing processes and reducing plastic packaging of food items. It was felt that future policy should be informed by some long-term forecasting of trends in climate change.

"The Scottish Government should encourage environmental policies and look at recyclable materials to pack food" (Interview 5)

"We need to think about endangered species, and the staples of food production and if these are sustainable or not and if we need to adapt our diets" (Interview 15)

Furthermore, there was the view that rural development, specifically in terms of the provision of services should be prioritised independently of its relationship with agriculture. It was felt that an emphasis should be placed on developing rural broadband "as we live in a technological age, rural communities will get left behind". Participants also expressed the view that future policy should focus on equalising service provision in urban and rural areas, focusing on ensuring that basic services were provided to enable people to live in the remote areas of Scotland. Those who advanced this perspective felt that a 60:40, or 50:50 split in terms of spending on agriculture and rural development should be made in future policy.