Scottish councils told to buy local
Scottish local authorities and caterers who provide food for schools, hospitals and other public sector sites have been asked to support the country's food industry by buying more local produce.
But the Scottish Executive's Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead, is now suggesting it is also a matter of national pride - and has written to public bodies urging them to purchase, and eat, more local produce.
"I firmly believe that we, as a nation, ought to be making much more of Scotland's reputation around the world for producing premium food and drink products," he said.
"Scotland has some of the best natural produce and the most skilled food and drink producers in the world, and I am calling on councils and public sector catering providers to help champion the industry.
"I am deeply concerned about the long term health and well-being of one of the cornerstones of Scotland's food heritage, our agricultural sector.
"There are exceptionally difficult circumstances currently facing Scottish livestock farmers. The most recent outbreak of Foot and Mouth in Surrey, coupled with unprecedented world grain prices, has had a devastating effect on our meat and dairy farmers.
"We believe it is vital that our high quality premium meat producers stay viable, and ensure the long term supply of beef, lamb and pork for future generations.
"I appreciate that in most cases buyers and suppliers will be working within existing contracts and, in the case of the public sector, within the framework of EU procurement rules.
"However, I am urging public bodies to support our meat industry and consider ways in which they can increase its use of prime Scottish meat products."
The market for public sector food procurement in Scotland is worth £85 million per year. Around two thirds of this is spent by the local authorities on education and social work catering.
In rural areas, where the industry is regarded as an integrated part of the rural economy, the contribution to economic, environmental and social benefits can be significantly higher, said Mr Lochhead.