Crowd gathers for meeting at marts over local produce concerns
Around 30 folk gathered at the marts yesterday for what turned out to be a heated debate at times over local produce.
Chairman of Shetland Livestock Marketing Group (SLMG) Ronnie Eunson presented the findings of a report into the marts and abattoir by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society.
The meeting, which lasted two hours, was attended by farmers, butchers, wholesalers, elected members and council officials.
It followed concerns not enough is being done by public bodies such as Shetland Islands Council and NHS Shetland to procure food from within the isles.
The so-called resilience revue has emerged after worries farming and crofting are going through difficult times, largely in light of Brexit.
Mr Eunson said Shetland agriculture was taking “pride in the place, and in produce”.
“Let’s see if that pride is replicated by the local authority,” he said.
However, he was met with opposition from butcher manager at wholesaler, Hughson Brothers, Michael Grant.
Mr Grant argued SLMG was failing to do enough to make its business known, and criticised the group for failing to employ a marketing manager.
He highlighted figures for July which showed he needed 20 cows killed in order to get 520 kilos of mince trims from their Inverurie suppliers.
“As you can see, I get through a lot of stuff,” he said. “But I don’t have a market for the whole cow.”
Mr Eunson said the group encouraged producers to engage with the market place.
“We don’t buy meat to sell on. We have quite a bit of success in encouraging farmers and crofters to engage with local businesses.”
The meeting heard concerns some farmers and crofters lacked confidence when it came to marketing their produce themselves, and butcher shops, it was said, were full to capacity.
Head of the council’s development, Neil Grant, said the authority procured about £200,000-worth of butcher meat, along with £100,000-worth of fish. He said he SIC was forced to comply with strict procurement regulations. But he said he would ask questions about the procurement process.
“If there’s an issue with how we procure, if there’s some way of doing it differently, I’ll ask.”
Questions were also asked about food being served in schools. Mr Grant repeated his assertion, made in today’s Shetland Times, that children do not eat lamb.
Mr Eunson said the 2015 contract for schools was “40 per cent chicken”, adding there was an issue about nutritional values and how menus are designed.
He highlighted other local authorities which had enjoyed more success in buying local produce from their areas.
Eric Graham, of Gremista Farm on the outskirts of Lerwick, said there were other issues apart from procurement which SLMG needed to consider. He urged more marketing of local meat to be carried out.
The meeting heard that, with a few exceptions, hotels and restaurants were failing to support local producers.
Isles MSP, Tavish Scott, argued a food and drink strategy for the isles would be “a great place to start”.
Mr Eunson closed the meeting, adding SLMG’s annual general meeting would be held in the next couple of weeks.