So… how would I start my brand new blog? What would be the perfect way to introduce the many different roles of a farmer-producer? If I had a pencil I’d be chewing at the end of it! And then there it was – manna from Heaven… or horse meat from Tesco as it happened!
For me, the horse meat situation raises a number of issues and what you might find surprising is that none of them are what appears to be the “Big Problem” – ie we’ve eaten horse. Lets be clear on that – it’s believed there is no health issue; some cultures will eat horse without question. No, for me that is not the “Big Problem”. The problem is plain and simple, good old fashioned, trust. Trust… and Blame.
My concerns you see, come from the longer term implications of this story. You know, that serious bit that happens when facebook’s picture posts stop showing teams of horses being chased by a Tesco van; and the wiseman in your local pub shifts his joke from “What do you put on the 2.15 at Ascot? “ to a newer one in keeping with today’s unfortunate / funny / shocking story!
What worries me is how we ensure that the blame for this issue remains firmly where it belongs. We also need to prepare ourselves for the fact that the trust we have built up as producers may become diluted when the inevitable scaremongering starts and the stance of being vegetarian is heralded as a virtue.
We – that’s the collective “we” that covers Scotland’s farmer/producers – have made massive efforts as an industry to prove to consumers that we provide a superior quality product in our meat. It is sold with its provenance intact, a journey that can be traced right back to birth. This hard won trust and respect must not be undermined by this latest Supermarket Scandal.
I don’t supply directly to supermarkets, but there are excellent farmers who do and I have no doubt that the processors and suppliers who remain standing at the end of this nonsense will feel the full weight of the Big Buyer’s Big Boots. There will be checklist upon standard and if that incurs extra cost you can bet your hard-earned margin that it will be passed on to said suppliers as a cut in value and prices for our stock. We must make sure this does not happen.
Because here’s the thing. Why would any supplier to THE global grocery giant, risk cheating their biggest customer? Is it greed, dishonesty, stupidity? Or is it the unachievable pressure they are under to supply cheap meat at the prices set? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that primary producers should not be the ones who ultimately pay the price for this price-fuelled nightmare.
As with every media scare story, there is a very real problem that needs to be addressed. The supply chain is not working in favour of suppliers or consumers. We have worked tirelessly since that first farmers’ market to re-educate the public and encourage them to demand the best. This has, without doubt, been a huge success but we must be realistic; some people want, and will look for, cheap meat. And supermarkets will supply it. So you can see the picture evolving – their buyers / suppliers will try to control the market by sourcing directly from the farm to give the provenance but screwing us on price to give the deals. And this is supposedly to guarantee the traceability of the product?
Not looking like it, is it?
The irony is this though. If we play this right the horse meat scandal could help our position and give our end customers, the great Scottish public, a guaranteed better product. The dairy farmers had a collective agreement to stop supply and every TV and radio station in the country ran the story. Here comes the gravy… the public opinion was with the farmers. Who knew!?
Timing is everything, and if ever there was a time to turn a negative into a positive it’s now. We should keep the media informed about the good things we do as farmers, the quality of the products we supply, and reaffirm that our systems are the safest in the world. We did not create this problem; our customers do not deserve this problem and I think now more than ever before, the supermarkets might listen.
And if not, you know what to do…. Speak with your feet. Walk away from the Big Buyer and his cheap morals and visit your farmers’ market, your local butcher, your independent deli, your farm shop. After all, they say that every little helps…