As the cost of living crisis rages, local shopping could offer a solution
DURING the winter, before the spring sunshine brought my laying hens back, I had my local dairy deliver eggs along with my usual delivery of delicious, fresh milk from farms within cycling distance of my door. The egg carton made me smile. On the front, kilted chickens play bagpipes and drums with the slogan: True Scottish Free Range Eggs ‘only the shell can tell’, with a clear guide inside the lid explaining the code stamped on the eggs.
“A nice light box catches people’s attention and they remember your eggs,” says Brian Blyth. His family have been selling eggs to communities in Fife and beyond for over 60 years. His company, D Blyth and Sons Ltd, has won numerous awards for its quality. Brian knows that the Scotland name is a big selling point.
“Scotland has always had a good reputation for high quality food. The code on the egg is used for traceability. The country of origin is often represented by a number, but the industry here fought hard to make sure “SCO” was on the bud. We in the business know immediately what the codes mean, but it’s more difficult for customers, so we decided to put all the information in the egg carton. Many people like to know where their food comes from.
Egg producers are going through a tough time. There is virulent bird flu plaguing the wild bird population and last November hens across Scotland were ordered to ‘herd together’ on the orders of the Scottish Government. This order has been extended until April. There is a strict limit to how long birds can be kept in housing conditions while called “free range”, and that limit is exceeded this week. Labels reading “Barn eggs laid by free-range hens temporarily housed in barns for their welfare” are added to many egg cartons.
In 2018, Scotland had 6.8million laying hens in a sector valued at £88million. With 12% of the UK’s production, our farmers produce enough to keep our country in eggs – crucial self-sufficiency as we face uncertain times – and yet rising costs are hitting farmers hard.
“At the moment there is a slight overproduction of eggs and retailers know they can lower the price they pay, even though farmers are facing a steep increase in costs,” says producer Matthew Steel. third generation egg farm on the outskirts of Forfar and National Farmers’ Union of Scotland Representative for Angus. “After Russia started the war in Ukraine the price of chicken feed here rose by £100 a tonne in a week. That adds 20p per dozen to the cost of eggs – but supermarkets won’t pay that. farmers will go out of business when we need it most.”
Matthew is critical of Westminster’s approach to farming, but hopes things will improve for Scottish farmers, with the Scottish government paying particular attention to farming and food security: “Farming is devolved and Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon (above) works with farmers. Policies are being developed to grow the food we need while protecting Scotland’s environment. There is a significant opportunity to get it right.
And what role can we play in all of this? What can we do to do things right for our communities?
Brian Blyth believes the “shop local” movement is the way to go.
“During lockdown our van drivers were out every day making sure our local shops had eggs on the shelves when the supermarkets had nothing. Most of our customers have stayed with us, and we will do our best to reduce the cost for them. An egg is the perfect food even for people on tight budgets. It is a meal in itself and quick to cook. It is the ideal food.
It could well be a difficult year for many of us with a cost of living crisis that Westminster refuses to control. Supporting local food and beverage businesses is one way to build resilience in our communities.
Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign