Jul 292016

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWith thanks to Kenneth Hutchison,
Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford.

Banff & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford has given her wholehearted backing to NFU Scotland and the Press and Journal’s campaign to ensure the ongoing viability of the north-east dairy industry.

Adding her name to the list of supporters, Dr Whiteford stressed the need for a vibrant dairy sector in the north-east, and urged shoppers to buy local milk, and to lobby supermarkets to support local farmers.

Speaking after a meeting with NFUS representatives and farmers at new Deer Show, Dr Whiteford said:

“The closure of the Muller plant has undoubtedly been a blow to our north-east dairy farmers, and it’s difficult to overstate the challenges the industry faces.

“That’s why it’s more important than ever for consumers to support farmers in the north-east. It’s also why supermarkets have to do their bit by ensuring that these same farmers receive a fair payment for the top-quality milk they supply.

“Agriculture is the mainstay of many rural towns and villages in Banff and Buchan, and I am very happy to support this campaign.”

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Apr 012016

Speyside farmers launch bid to produce beef to rival world famous Kobe beef from Japan. With thanks to Eoin Smith, Tricker PR.

Monday 28th March 2016, Aberdeen, Scotland, SOSWF urging cattle farmers to follow the lead of Japanese producers of Kobe beef, but instead of drinking beer, Speyside cattle will be fed draff from distilleries, drink whisky, and will have traditional Scottish music played to them. Pictured: Ann Miller, Spirit of Speyside Whiskey Festival. (Photo: Ross Johnston/Newsline Media)

One of the Aberdeen Angus herd cannot wait to get his daily dram from Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival director Ann Miller.

Farmers on Speyside are being urged to lead a fight back for the Scotch whisky industry after a Japanese malt was named best in the world – by feeding their cattle a daily dram.

A nip of our national drink – coupled with a diet of high quality feed from distillery by-products – could produce meat so succulent and tender that it will rival Japan’s famous Kobe beef.

And it is thought that playing cattle upbeat traditional Scots music, in much the same way that Kobe herds enjoy classical sounds, will further enhance the quality of the beef.

Now there are calls from organisers of the world renowned Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival for local farmers to help further trial the theory.

Thousands of visitors from all over the globe visit the annual Festival, and organisers are concerned about the level of attention being focused on Japanese whisky.

Ann Miller, a director of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, says,

“We do not believe there is anywhere on earth that produces better malt whisky than Speyside – and millions of whisky drinkers agree.

“We were genuinely shocked and dismayed when Yamazaki was named the best whisky in the world, but we are firm believers in the old adage of don’t get mad, get even.

“And that is exactly what we intend to do. All the signs indicate that introducing Speyside malt into a cow’s diet and using animal feed created from distillery by-products gives the meat a lovely, whisky-tinged flavour.”

The incredible discovery was made by Speyside farmers Ali Rolfop and Joe King, who have a herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle.

They were mucking out a byre one evening on their farm, Ure Gullybale, near the distillery town of Keith and poured a bottle of single malt Scotch into a water trough.

Ali explains,

“I’m a big fan of two of Speyside’s most famous products – malt whisky and traditional music – and so I decided to share these with our cattle.

“The next day, we noticed their coats were shiny and their eyes were bright. We’ve since been sharing a bottle of malt with them and we even have some local fiddlers come down to perform. We tasted the beef from the herd for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it is sensational – there is definitely a hint of whisky in the meat.”

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival takes place from April 28 to May 2 and is one of the biggest events of its kind anywhere in the world. It comprises almost 500 different events, from distillery tours to whisky tastings, from ceilidhs to comedy nights, and from whisky themed dinners to outdoor events.

Ann adds,

“With all this focus on Japan, I suppose we are a little worried that the thousands of visitors who fly in from all corners of the globe to enjoy our Festival might be tempted to go there instead.

“But while Japan may have been able to produce some decent drams, it doesn’t have the history and heritage of Scotch whisky. We’ve been producing the best whisky in the world for generations – no beef about it – and while they have learned how to make whisky from us, we’re now learning from their farming techniques.”

Tickets for all events in the 2016 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival programme are available to buy now at www.spiritofspeyside.com The Festival is also active on social media – facebook.com/WhiskyFestival and @spirit_speyside on Twitter and on Instagram.

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Apr 082014

Charlie Abel by Julie ThompsonBy Bob Smith.

The barn wis wash’t and scrubbit doon
A job ower hard for ae wee loon
Seen aa the fleer wis fine an clean
Ready for a dustin o slipperene

Neipers an freens fae aa aroon
Cam doon the road ti wir fairm toon
There ti hae a dunce an celebrate
The hinmaist shaif throwe the cornyaird gate

There wis streamers hingin fae the roof
As roon the fleer the fowk did hoof
Gay Gordons, waltzes and foxtrots
Maist fowk wis swatin lots an lots

Music wis provided by twa chiels
Aabody got up fer an eichtsome reel
Syne fin they needed a wee bit rest
Samplin the food they did wi zest

Pies sandwiches an scones wi jam
Teas lemonade or maybe a dram
We aa sat aroon an hid a blether
Aboot the price o coos or the affa wither

Time ti gyang hame aroon een o clock
Some fowk in the mornin wid hae ti yoke
The horse up ti the sma box cairt
Fin gaitherin neeps they micht hae ti stairt

© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2014
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Dec 062013

Duncan Harley looks at the Guns or Butter nature of 1940’s Scotland

Land army memorial - Credit: Duncan Harley

The Women’s Land Army memorial at Clochan near Buckie – Credit: Duncan Harley

With the outbreak of war in 1939, food production became the focus of various governmental initiatives. Rationing of basic foodstuffs, such as meat, butter and sugar was introduced and wild harvests, such as foxglove leaves, nettles and rosehip berries, were collected in season by volunteers, including schoolchildren, organised by the Department of Health and on an organised and quite massive national scale.

Government departments, such as the Herring Industry Board and the Potato Marketing Board, advised mothers to cook with locally sourced produce.

In a somewhat Orwellian style pronouncement the Food Controller for the North East of Scotland, Mr G. Mitchell, announced that:

“Scotland’s traditional fare, such as tatties, porridge and herring can play a significant part in winning the war.”

Dishes, such as potato carrot pancake and carrot pudding, were promoted as both foodstuffs and also as tonics. Carrot marmalade recipes were published in the local press and eggless oatmeal cookies vied for prominence alongside carrot and oatmeal soup in parish magazines. Both oatmeal and carrots were in good supply, eggs and sugar were, of course, extremely scarce.

Many Scottish golf courses were ploughed up to provide agricultural land and even coastal courses, unsuitable for the growing of crops, suffered the indignity of having  sheep and cattle let loose to graze the turf which, not long before, had been lovingly tended by the green keepers.

Following a record silage yield in a 1940 trial, Aberdeenshire’s Ellon Golf Club gave permission to a local farmer to spread manure on the course in order to increase the yield for 1941 and over 20 acres of the Aberdeen Hazlehead course also fell to the agricultural plough.

Other UK golf clubs resorted to humour to combat the enemy such this extract from the Richmond Golf Club Temporary Rules, 1941:

“ Players are asked to collect bomb and shrapnel splinters to save these causing damage to the mowing machines and  in competitions during gunfire, or while bombs are falling, players may take shelter without penalty for ceasing play.”

Families were encouraged to grow food where possible

Many golf courses, while willing to support the war effort, looked for ways round the issue of the destruction of fairways and greens and quite a few hit on the idea of producing silage for winter livestock feed.

The phrase “long grass on north east courses will help to win the war” became currency until the reality of shortage of tractors and indeed hands on scythes, struck home.

The aptly named Ministry of Fuel and Power had, in any case, urged farmers to conserve tractor fuel in order to ‘speed up the tanks’ which, by this stage in the conflict, were battling it out in the Western Desert somewhat ironically on top of the, then unknown and untapped, oil reserves which could easily have fed the North African Campaign’s war machine.

Families were encouraged to grow food where possible and the Dig for Victory campaign gained momentum as local councils freed up parkland and wasteland nationwide to form allotments.

All of these measures were, of course, seen as necessary due to the restrictions on imports imposed by the war.

In particular, the freeing up of supply ships for the import of raw war materials was viewed as vital and any reasonable means of reducing the level of unnecessary imports was sought. The classic dilemma of the Keynesian economy at war was simplified into a simple Guns or Butter equation and the ‘Kitchen Front’ was born.

The term ‘Kitchen Front’ was, of course, more applicable to the efforts of those, mainly women at that time, who actually worked in the household kitchens up and down the land. As they tried to make some sense of new ingredients such as powdered eggs and corned beef in order to feed their families, a multitude of agricultural workers slaved backstage to produce the raw materials for the nation’s diet.

The Women’s Land Army (WLA) had been a creation of The Board of Agriculture in the early days of WW1.

Plough - Credit: Duncan Harley and Janice RayneEstablished in 1915 when Britain was struggling for both agricultural and industrial labour the Land Army eventually peaked at an estimated total quarter of a million female agricultural labourers towards of that war.

In the Second World War the Land Army was re-established under the command of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Minagfish for short) and given an honorary head, Lady Denman.

As an ex chairman of the Women’s Institute Sub-Committee of the Agricultural Organisation Society and founder of the Smokes for Wounded Soldiers and Sailors Society, or SSS as it was commonly known, she had some experience of both agriculture and the needs of a wartime economy.

At the start of WW2, Lady Denman at first asked for volunteers, but when those were slow in coming forward, the good lady was advised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food that conscription would be required in order to fulfil food production quotas.

The Ministry of Supply appointed local co-ordinators to take charge of local recruitment and training and one such official, a Mrs Cook of Ballater, advised that the daughters of gamekeepers and smallholders would make ideal recruits.

In charge of recruitment for the Alford and Deeside areas, Mrs Cook was to be quoted in the local press as advising that “farmers now realise how well these girls have done in tackling general farm work.” However she doubted whether the demand for such labour could be met given the often conflicting priorities of the war time economy.

By mid 1944 the Women’s Land Army had over 80,000 members nationwide whose work had of course been supplemented by Italian and German prisoners of war.

Officially disbanded on 21st October, 1949, the WLA remained largely ignored in the history books and in line with the Bevin Boys and the Arctic Convoy seamen the WLA received scant recognition for many decades until NFU former president Jim McLaren, whose mother Katherine had been a Land Girl, recognised that there was no permanent memorial to the WLA in the UK.

Jim then set up a committee to rectify the situation and within 3 years over £50k was raised.

And so it was, on the 9th October, 2012, that Prince Charles unveiled the Women’s Land Army Memorial at Clochan with the words:

 “It gives me enormous pride to be able to join you on this exposed hilltop to pay a small tribute of my own to all of those remarkable Land Girls who did so much when the country was under threat.”

Overlooking the fertile fields of the Moray coast and designed by Yorkshire artist Peter Naylor, the Women’s Land Army memorial at Clochan near Buckie is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

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Nov 212013

turra Coo duncan harley2One hundred years on, Duncan Harley examines the story of the Fite Coo.

Almost a hundred years ago Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act came into force. The legislation was intended to improve the lot of farm labourers, fisher folk and factory workers who were often employed for a contractual period of six months or less.

The Act of Parliament (The National Insurance Act 1913) provided for medical and unemployment benefits for workers and their families who were in need of state support through either ill health or lack of employment.

The tax received a mixed reception. Suspicion and prejudice against government interference fuelled discontent in many minds and the bare fact that both workers and employers were required to contribute hard cash caused many to consider direct action.

The Scottish Farm Servants’ Union welcomed the measure since it offered some improvement for those workers who simply became worn out and too ill to continue working and who would otherwise have to rely on the mercy and support of former employers.

Many Scottish farmers, however, remained unconvinced of the merits of state support for those in need.

Protest movements arose in various parts of Scotland and in a somewhat strange alliance for the times, the Liberal government of the time found itself in sympathy with the Marxists over the issue of both land reform and workers social security.

The farmers around the Aberdeenshire market town of Turriff in Aberdeenshire were particularly incensed, partly because of the now increased costs of employing farm labourers and also because many genuinely felt that they already took good care of the workforce upon which they relied.

There were riots, demonstrations and protests.

In the end a farmer by the name Robert Paterson of Lendrum near Turriff became the focus of Sheriff’s Officers when he refused to pay what he called the “unfair and unjust tax”. He had previously been convicted and fined in court for 20 such offences against the 1911 National Insurance Act and had paid the accumulated £15 fine, however he refused to pay the arrears of National Insurance.

the authorities reacted by seizing one of his milk cows

A Unionist by nature, he publicly stated that “because it was a service that farmers and farm labourer would rarely use” he would not pay the tax imposed by a Welsh led government. Lendrum to Leeks became the campaign slogan.

Paterson quickly became a cause célèbre in the North East and indeed beyond. Following court action for the unpaid debt to the National Insurance Fund, the authorities reacted by seizing one of his milk cows, intending to auction it to re-coup the debt he owed to the government for unpaid National Insurance Contributions.

Things got from bad to worse. There were further riots and much civil disobedience. The seized cow then became the cause célèbre and the press had a field day.

The immediate events following the seizing of the Turra Coo by Sherriff Officers are well known.

No local auctioneer could be found to sell the beast and the “Fite Coo”, now emblazoned with the painted slogan “Breath Bad – Gummy Leeks” as a reference to the Welsh born Lloyd George, seemingly ran off home to Lendrum where after a few days it was again seized by the authorities and taken by train to Aberdeen’s Denburn Auction Market where it was sold for seven pounds on 16th December 1913 to a Mr Alex Craig.

Mr Craig then sold the animal on to a Mr Davidson for £14 thus making a tidy profit on the deal.

turra Coo duncan harley4

Mr Davidson then transported the now famous cow back to Turriff where crowds of townsfolk and farm workers gathered to witness the event. The local pipe band played “See the Conquering Hero Comes” and the poor cow sported more painted slogans on her sides including “Free! Divn’t ye wish ye were me.”

The war to end all wars was looming. Indeed many of the participants in this sometimes hilarious series of events would soon be dead. Sacrificed on the battlefronts of the 1914-18 war.

The cow however survived and was returned to Lendrum Farm, where it died of bovine tuberculosis in 1920.

Depending on which account is read, it was either stuffed and displayed at Lendrum Farm for a while before being sent by train to Aberdeen’s Marischal College for display or simply buried in a field at Lendrum to remain undisturbed for many years until excavations for a new water supply uncovered her bones.

The myth of the Turra Coo perpetuates to this day however.

The West Aberdeenshire MP of the time, Mr J.M. Henderson MP, had a take on it. He toured the North East in the January of 1914 speaking to meetings of constituents who were mainly opposed to the idea of state care for the elderly and infirm.

At a meeting in Culsalmond he was heckled after saying that  farmers did not seem to grasp the idea that the Insurance Act was designed to provide for those workers who having attained the age of 50 and upwards who were unable to work due to illness or disability.

“Insurance follows the servant” said Henderson and he told the heckling audiences that although he knew that a good many masters were good to there servants the facts showed that farm workers rarely stayed in one position for long. The Insurance Act was he said, designed to combat this problem by providing a fundamental right to healthcare and assistance in times of financial hardship.

Not only Culsamond but Tarland, Turriff and indeed seemingly the entire Garioch seemed to agree that the Act of Parliament was both unfair and unnecessary.

Effigies of Lloyd George and the local MP WH Cowan were publicly burned in Inverurie town square.

a crowd of around 1500 packed Turriff’s main square

It does seem ironic nowadays that in many cases those workers whose interests the National Insurance Act was designed to protect were often the most vehement in their opposition.

Cynics of the time suggested that the workforce was being manipulated by the land owners and bullied or perhaps being encouraged into opposition. For example a crowd of around 1500 packed Turriff’s main square on the day of the proposed sale of Mr Paterson’s cow to meet the Insurance arrears due by him.

Many were local farmers and many more were farm workers who had been given a half day holiday at a time when the Scottish Farm Servants’ Union had been unsuccessfully campaigning for regular holidays for farm workers.

The more sympathetic amongst us would perhaps understand that the spectre of state interference in rural affairs loomed large in the minds of both employers and employees.

In a court judgement of the time, Sheriff Stewart of Banff convicted and fined two farmers from Gamrie and Fordyce following representations by the defendant’s legal representatives that they had been “misguided” and “stupid” in failing to pay to stamp the National Insurance cards of their employees.

In his summing up, the good Sheriff said that if there were further examples of resistance to the act of parliament then he would seriously consider whether the penalty should not be materially increased.

Strong sentiments indeed.

The Poetry Mannie – Bob Smith has a take on it.


A bronze statue o the Turra Coo
Noo staans proodly in the toon
Ti commemorate a gweed story
A’ve kent since a wis a loon

The fite coo fae Lendrum
Wis the celebrity o it’s day
Fin fairmer Robert Paterson
Thocht NI wisna fair play

Sheriff Geordie Keith set oot
Tae seize property as a fine
Bit the locals widna help him
An refused tae tae the line

The coo wis pit up fer auction
Fegs iss nearly caused a riot
Syne up steps Alexander Craig
As the bodie faa wid buy it

Noo iss is nae the eyn o the story
Fowk  an injustice they hid seen
A fair pucklie did rally roon
Wi fairmer Craig a deal wis deen

The coo wis noo back at Lendrum
Tae see oot the rest o her days
Nae doot neen the wiser o
The stooshie she did raise

At a junction in the bonnie toon
Iss a sculture o the beast
Faa brocht a fair bit o fame
Tae Turra an the haill north-east

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

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Jun 132013

Countryside lovers could be forgiven for thinking that environmental protection is a thing of the past in Scotland. Urban Sprawl is removing our green belt. Air, land and sea pollution in many cases exceeds EU maximum levels: roads in Aberdeen are among the country’s top ten most polluted roads.

Species protection and sensible, humane management of wildlife doesn’t seem to exist. The agencies charged with guarding our natural heritage for the present and for future generations seem to be stocked with those who place commercial interests above wildlife. In a four part series, Suzanne Kelly looks at this cull of the wild, focusing on Seal, Badger, Deer and Bird of Prey issues.

Late in 1998, during the ‘International Year of the Ocean’, Mi’kmaq Elder and Chief Charlie Labrador was asked by the ‘International Ocean Institute’ to address a major scientific conference held in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The theme of the conference was ‘the crisis of knowledge’. The following is an excerpt from Charlie’s speech to the gathering of marine scientists

“What you are telling me is you don’t know how to fish…You use the word ‘technology,’ but in my time there has been a decrease in everything…If something isn’t done soon, there will be no more time for any of us. There has to be something better than technology. It was sad a few years ago when our seals got the blame for taking the cod. It wasn’t their fault…those who harvest the earth’s resources must begin putting as much back into it as they remove…”

Debbie MacKenzie http://www.fisherycrisis.com/seals/sealsncod.htm

Seal culling – excuses despite humane solutions.

Perhaps Scotland doesn’t condone the clubbing of baby seals for fur, as is the case elsewhere, but the persecution of seals is a bloody, brutal reality.

Seals are being blamed for taking caged fish. Let’s dispense with the concept of ‘farmed’ fish which the industry favours, these are sentient, intelligent creatures which normally would move from the rivers to the seas and back. They are kept in crowded cages where they have been observed to be unhealthy and stressed.

The cages are protected to some small degree by netting; netting which by law is meant not to harm other wildlife such as the seals. This is not always the case, as a recent and nearly unique conviction shows.

Conviction Light:  Graham McNally.

On the 28th of May of this year Graham McNally, 52, was convicted of using nets for the purpose of trapping and killing seals. This was the first such conviction in the UK under the 20 year old Conservation (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1994 and was heard at Lerwick Sheriff Court.  (Further details from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-22695243 ).

A quick glance at related headlines might let a reader conclude that this was a great result, but the real story is different. The first issue to be considered is why there has been no other successful prosecution in 19 years for using nets for killing seals: does anyone really think this is the only instance?

Secondly, this man was fined… £800. Such a sum will be happily paid and in all likelihood amounts to nothing more than a mildly inconvenient business expense. The paucity of convictions for offenses against seals should be remedied, and the fines increased; it is a pity that the Government prefers to go after those on benefits with more than one bedroom to live in, with more zest than it shows in stopping seal persecution.

Thirdly, and possibly the most alarming development in this case involves the apparent concealment of the evidence.  According to Shetland News :-

“… John Robins, of the Save Our Seals Fund, said that McNally originally pled not guilty to setting illegal nets between August 2009 and August 2011, based on evidence that seals had been entangled and drowned in such nets.

“Robins has written to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) asking if the charges were amended in return for a guilty plea or for any other reason, asking why the reference to the killing of seals was removed from the charges.

““Unless I have tangled up my court cases I was expecting hard evidence of dead seals to be presented by the prosecution,” Robins said, “I hope there was a very, very good reason why this evidence was dropped”

“The wildlife campaigner has also written to environment secretary Richard Lochhead using this case to repeat his call for proprietary anti-predator nets to be made compulsory at all Scottish salmon farms.”

http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/6885-court-challenged-over-dead-seal-evidence ) :-

Aberdeen Voice readers and Tullos Hill deer campaigners will know John Robins for the work he did in helping to protest the deer cull, which with the massive tree planting on Tullos Hill was pushed through despite huge public opposition. Again, the motivation there was financial . The public was told that this was the least expensive way to plant trees, on a former rubbish tip with little soil and North Sea exposure, at Tullos. John told Aberdeen Voice:-

“The Shetland court case reinforces my demand for the Scottish Government to make humane predator exclusion nets compulsory at all marine fin fish farms. Properly installed and maintained these nets would eliminate any need to shoot seals and create much needed jobs in rural communities.”

“Scotland is turning into culling country. Geese, crows, deer, squirrels, wild goats  are all being slaughtered in the name of conservation. This is the Year of Natural Scotland. An appropriate way to mark this would be to give every visitor a gun or a trap as they cross the border.”

A Man to Remember, who forgot why he clubbed baby seals:  James Stewart.

The fines meted out to those who shoot, club and drown our seals is normally minimal – where it exists at all. Not all are involved in farmed fish; some are coastal residents and/or fishermen.  Here however is a man to watch in future, who displayed particular contempt for and cruelty to seals:-

47 year-old fisherman James Stewart from Shetland was jailed for 80 days for clubbing 21 baby seals to death with a fence post. He admitted killing the animals as they lay on a beach on the island of East Linga but he did not explain why he did it.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7964109.stm

Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation – A Powerful Club.

The salmon industry represents that seals must be shot. In 2009 the BBC recorded spokesperson Scott Landsburgh of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation. He claimed that ‘only 498’ seals were shot in that year – a most precise figure indeed. He also claimed seals stole thousands of salmon from the farms. ‘Our primary interest is the welfare of the salmon’ –  he said.

Presumably this welfare doesn’t extend to giving them more space or feeding them up until the time of a humane destruction. But what is the SSPO and how do they operate?

The SSPO represents several salmon producers, including Marine Harvest, Loch Duart and Wester Ross. Their website offers some impressive statistics which include:-

The growth in the UK salmon market:

  • 1 million fresh salmon meals are eaten in the UK every day;
  • 1 million smoked salmon meals are eaten in the UK every week;
  •  An additional 40 million servings of fresh salmon were consumed in UK households between 2006 and 2008.

Export performance of Scottish farmed salmon:

  • The worldwide retail value of Scottish farmed salmon is over £1 billion;
  • over 60 countries imported fresh Scottish salmon in 2011;
  • the USA is the largest export market for Scottish farmed salmon, followed by France;
  • Scottish farmed salmon topped the RSPCA’s Freedom Food chart in 2009, with an impressive 60% of production participating in the stringent animal welfare scheme.


This adds up to a very rich and powerful lobby.

The SSPO website goes on to boast that information on sea lice has now been divulged. In terms of newsworthiness, this is rather like divulging who won last year’s X Factor. Do note that sea lice are not like the little flies we know – they are parasitic, blood sucking creatures that cause suffering.

Contempt of Law, Contempt of Wildlife

Local landowner Marc Ellington disagrees with seal shooting.  He has given notice to Usan Salmon Fisheries to stay off his land for the purpose of shooting seals, but they don’t seem to be taking any notice.

While land can be freely accessed for recreational purposes or crossed (unless you are a Menie Estate resident  to whom the law is turning a blind eye), you cannot go onto private land for the purpose of shooting, and seals cannot be shot at from boats – although we know that this is taking place. An article with Ellington’s comments can be found here:

In it he says:-

“The company concerned has no business discharging firearms on land owned by Gardenstown and Crovie Estate without permission,” said Mr Ellington.

“They have not sought permission to use firearms on the estate to shoot seals, and permission would not be granted under any circumstances to do so.

“I am unhappy on a personal level, as someone with an interest in conservation, that seals are being shot at all, and I am especially concerned that there are reports of them being shot from estate land.”

The law is on Ellington’s side – but the carcasses of shot seals keep appearing in the area.  In one particularly disturbing photo, those who shot a particular seal took a photo of the seal on the shore with a cigarette in its mouth and an alcoholic beverage as if it were drinking and smoking,  These are the kinds of people who we have shooting seals.

It is clear that the advent of caged fish production is linked to the culling of our seals. What is life like for a salmon in a cage?

School of thought on Schools of Caged Fish.

Private Eye has for years carried stories on sea lice escaping from fish farms and infecting the wild, chemical contamination, and a little known food chain development:-

“In March, the satirical magazine Private Eye reported that the European Commission had quietly lifted a twelve-year-old ban on feeding ground-up animal remains to farmed animals; the ban was imposed in the wake of the mad cow disease scare when the practice of doing so was blamed for causing the disease.

“In the first instance the relaxation of the rule will only apply to fish farmers, who from June 1 will be allowed to feed leftovers from chicken and pigs to their captive salmon; the Commission argued that because in nature animals eat other animals, there was nothing to worry about – although they failed to explain how, ‘in nature’, salmon ate chicken and pigs.

“The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice to government was that in principal the risk [of disease transfer to humans] would be negligible provided that it could be ensured that it was only chicken and pig going into fish feed; although in practice they noted that adequate controls were lacking. The SFA also said that no one could know for certain that pigs and chickens would not prove susceptible to “transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.” So that’s all right then, isn’t it?”


Life is not a natural one for caged salmon; they are denied space; they are prone to parasites and disease, and the methods of slaughter used are condemned by organisations including Compassion in World Farming, which issued a report – http://www.ciwf.org.uk/includes/documents/cm_docs/2008/i/in_too_deep_summary_2001.pdf

This reads in part:-

“About 35 million each of salmon and trout are slaughtered annually in the UK.

“Farmed fish are normally starved for 7-10 days before slaughter. Inhumane slaughter methods for trout include suffocation in air or on ice. Carbon dioxide stunning, another inhumane method causing immobility well before unconsciousness, is used for both salmon and trout….

“Trout are often stocked so densely that 13-27 trout measuring 30 cm (1 ft) long are allocated the equivalent of a bathtub of water.

“ High incidences of severe and blinding cataracts have been found in farmed salmon. Infestation with parasitic sea lice is a serious problem for farmed salmon. Lice feed on their host. Damage can be so severe that the skull of the living fish can be exposed.

“Biotechnology is used widely in the UK trout industry to produce chromosome-manipulated “triploid” fish.”

At the time of writing, USAN has not responded to questions put to it.  Comments on fish welfare would be welcome from the industry or its lobbyists.  Perhaps we should be worried about our own welfare as well.

To your health?

Is all this wildlife damage and persecution doing us any good?  Scientific American is not alone in warning of high levels of mercury and PCBs, a chemical linked to disease in humans. A recent article can be found here;-

The caged fish industry does have a fair amount of problems to solve, but they are efficient at lobbying.

Environmental Protection – Supine SEPA.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency is not exactly getting glowing reports for its performance in many areas.  It is ‘unable’ to determine which company or companies are polluting East Tullos Burn in the backyard of its own Aberdeen HQ.  It does not seem to respond to questions put to it on its online contact form (no email addresses are supplied). And in the case of managing fish farms, as per the Guardian, it is falling down on the job:-

“Don Staniford, the anti-fish farming campaigner who has investigated SEPA’s monitoring data, tabling a series of detailed Freedom of Information requests, was blunter. He said salmon farming was a “malignant cancer”.

“SEPA’s statutory duty is to stop companies such as Marine Harvest using Scottish waters as a toxic toilet and dumping ground for chemical contaminants,” he said. “Yet SEPA has shamefully opened the floodgates to the use of a cocktail of chemicals. Shame on Scottish salmon farming and shame on SEPA.”



Fish farms bring money and jobs to rural areas. They also, according to my research, bring disease to the captive animals, cruelty, pollution, persecution of seals, and some would argue human health problems where high concentrations of PCBs are involved. Is Scotland that short of jobs that profits must be maximised to the extent that animal welfare, compassion, ethics and respect for the environment are sacrificed further?

It is possible to improve cage protection to keep seals away without shooting or cruelly drowning them in nets. The organisations that could help – our police wildlife officers and the SNH – must do more. Culling our wildlife is not an acceptable means of justifying big profit margins.

Perhaps it is time to create a more powerful pro-animal, pro-environment lobby to counteract the efforts of the lobbyists who want to destroy our wildlife.

Suggested Actions

  • Stop buying any farmed trout or salmon.
  • Tell your preferred supermarket chains you will not be buying farmed fish.
  • Lobby your representatives (find them at http://www.writetothem.com/ ) expressing concerns for the seals, the farmed fish – and your own health.
  • Write to Marine Scotland, which licenses people to shoot seals, and state your opposition to the shooting of seals.
  • If you are in the vicinity of any fish farms, report any sightings of seal hunting.  Record anything suspicious and share with the police, and with Aberdeen Voice.
  • Support organisations such as the Scottish SPCA, Compassion in World Farming, Seal Protection Action Group, One Kind and Animal  Concern Advice Line. You will find their details on the internet.

We and our legislators should be demanding that the fish farm, which is in reality the caged fish, industry cleans up their issues. These include:-

  • Overcrowding.
  • Cruelty. Fish are often starved for days before they are killed.
  • Parasitic infections such as sea lice, pollution (occasionally escaping from the cages);
  • and of course shooting and drowning of seals.

Further Reading

Our Government has decided that rather than demanding better cages to keep the seals away and better life quality for the caged fish, that licensing people to shoot seals is the answer.  It is not the only answer, but it is the one that those who like to hunt, and those who want to keep fish farm costs minimal might well favour.

The lobbying efforts of the powerful industry groups have made our officials focus instead on the perceived, invented need to destroy our seals. Experts have shown that better, more robust cages for the salmon, which certainly do not have an enviable existence, would prevent seals from taking fish from the farms.

But licensed and unlicensed killing is taking place to the detriment of the seals and the seas.  The motivation seems to be, unsurprisingly, financial.

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May 312013

By Bob Smith.

A makkin o tatties
Fresh fae the dreel
Wi a dollop o butter
It fair tastes richt weel

Duke o York or Kerr’s Pink
An wi earth they are barkit
They aa miles aheid
Than fae ony supermairket

Majestic or Golden Wonder
Micht gyang throwe the bree
Bit onything is far better
Than Maris Piper tae me

Fin they’re bein plunted
An in earth they are stuck
Myn the best fertiliser’s
A gweed pile o muck

So praise the humble tattie
It’s gweed an it’s cheap
An nourishes yer body
Like an affa fine neep

Jist myn fin yer buyin
Taste it dis maitter
Auld varieties are best
Nae eens fit cam later

Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

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May 312013

Can you be an animal lover and eat animals? Would it be better to say “I am a pet lover”? Trish Healy questions the nature of our relationship with animals and the food industry.

People are happy to love their pets and spend much time and attention including toys & treats upon them but would be horrified at the thought of killing, skinning, chopping, cooking and eating them.

The same people, however, would be happy have this done to a ‘farm’ animal.

I ask you, why is one beings life less important and of less value than the other? If a ‘pet’ is abused there is an outcry and yet, are we not abusing the animal we see as food?

The same lamb that is cooed over in the fields at springtime is thought not about when on our plates. We give our children cuddly toys, pigs, calves, lambs, and serve the same animal to them in the guise of a breaded dinosaur.

Just how much are we as the consumer aware of the horrors of the slaughterhouse? Do we connect that we pay the hand that takes the life? We don’t want to know that part, better hidden, no glass walls to see through.

What is humane about a life not given but taken?  How many meat eaters have watched any footage at all of a slaughterhouse? It’s not pretty, it’s not humane, its soul destroying but hey it tastes good…do we have the right to kill because of taste?

Free range – at least they have had a good life. Has anyone truly investigated this free range or do you take the labels word for it?

In 2011 an undercover investigation by Hillside Animal Sanctuary made public the horrific conditions on a Norfolk UK ‘Freedom Food Farm’, a scheme – backed by the RSPCA – which is meant to ­guarantee high animal welfare standards . The farm was suspended from the freedom food scheme but the animals where left in distress.

We are brainwashed by so many adverts that deviate from truth. How many are aware that the cow’s milk on the shelves is the milk a baby calf went without?

The male is the by-product of this industry and is too costly to maintain so off to slaughter this baby goes and we can have the milk for our coffee, ice cream, goodness there’s even milk in crisps.

Gummi Bears, a children’s favourite sweet contains gelatine which is made from the bones of mainly pigs and cows, unsuitable then for the vegetarian, vegan, and those religions that do not allow the consumption of certain animals.

Many items bought do not by law have to state certain ingredients; wine for example contains proteins, egg whites and isinglass, a derivative of sturgeon bladders, Safer to buy the vegan version if you wish to stay clear of any animal agents

We are a nation of fast food junkies who pay no heed to why these meals are so cheap as long as they stay this way.

Who wants to think of the battery caged hens, twisted in the packed cages, featherless and broken? They will be barely a year old before they go to feed the fast food outlets.

Who cares that they are hatched in their thousands, the males minced in the mincing machine and the females kept for the cages or the free range market, same beginning…same end. They are no longer living beings but commodities as are all animals raised for the food industry.

I ask when are we as a species going to ‘evolve’ from the ‘food chain’ and become compassionate to those beings we share this planet with.

In past years, women were laughed at for believing they were entitled to vote; that the black slave would be free; that women would preach in the ministry. So I ask you to nurture these thoughts I have put into words and ask yourself, “to eat without meat?” … why not?

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Feb 142013

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Another week passes in Aberdeen; Jamie Oliver’s new Italian restaurant had its first tasting sessions, and bookings extend way into the future. I feel kind of badly that no one told the poor guy we were ‘closed for business’, having rejected the Granite Web.

Then again, since 6,000 people will be in the promised jobs created by Donald Trump, this will mean we need more restaurants, too. Since the government said it, it must be true.

Our city council has put forward a plan to spend £56 million and improve our city centre and our roads.

To think – we could have spent only £84 million more, forgotten about fixing the few potholes we have, and built a granite web instead. Sophisticated culture-seekers would forget Venice, Paris and Rome to come walk up one side of the web and down the other.

I did say I’d be pleased to stop writing about the web, but its supporters, realising their vision is the only vision, are still using their influence to float this idea.  They are going to flog this dead horse a while longer it seems.

Flogging dead horses is something which has been going on in Europe for some time as far as our meat is concerned anyway. Which leads to some definitions for the week

Labelling problem (modern European Union compound noun) – a minor, unimportant event where something has had the incorrect label put on it.

Thinking of dead horses, I wouldn’t worry too much about eating horse meat. Sure, you may have been paying through the nose for beef, or perhaps you’re buying budget ready meals for you and your family. Meat is meat of course. Except for the small fact you’ve probably been cheated and lied to so someone could make a profit at your expense.

Just because meat packing companies were lying about what the meat actually was, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’d mislead us over anything else, does it?   Some people might care about hygiene, animal welfare issues including transport, but I’m sure everything’s fine on that score. You can bet on it (and you could probably have bet on that hamburger you’re tucking into when it was alive).

Don’t worry about anything to do with your health and diet; the European Union are having a meeting or two on the horse meat issue. Result! I’ll bet you feel better already.  First and foremost, they’ve decided they were in no way at fault in this situation. I’m sure we agree.  I for one would hate to nag my MEP over this issue, or saddle him with any other worries.

EU agricultural regulations might just be a tad complicated, and might be enforced differently from one country to the next (or not enforced at all), but it’s nothing to do with our lawmakers, their abattoir inspectors, their agricultural policies, etc. According to news website EU business, the EU Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent reassuringly said at a news conference on the possibility of a British ban on EU meat exports:-

“We’re not talking about a food safety issue.   Nobody got sick as far as I know. It’s just a labelling issue. So at this stage a ban on anything would not be appropriate.”

The Commission itself could only legally take action if there was proof of a health issue, he added.

Old Susannah is so happy to learn no one got sick.  Guess that’s the end of the food worry.

I’m sure it’s unimportant, but if you’re interested, some of the drugs we give horses to treat ailments such as inflammation  include ‘Bute’ – a medicine which arguably is linked to cancer in humans. But no worries.  ‘No one got sick.’

If a person did come in contact with cancerous materials, they’d instantly ‘get sick.’ Thankfully we have great scientific minds at work in the EU and not just politicians trying to worm their way out of tough situations via damage-limitation exercises in spin.

We’ve established that a person might not be instantly physically sick just from eating horse (which is a staple meat in many places – so much so it makes me wonder why the EU spokesperson had to say ‘no one got sick’).  I’m sure this little misadventure in mis-labelling  will be totally comical to the thousands of horse-lovers who’ll find out they’ve eaten horse meat when thinking they were eating something else.

The EU’s Muslim population will likewise be delighted to find that pork might have contaminated their food, too. Perhaps we’ll have a new brand of horse steak ‘I can’t believe it’s not burger!’

we can’t have countries just going around deciding what they’re going to do on their own, can we?

Sadly, there are those who don’t take the EU’s word at face value for some reason or other.  Damian Carrington of the Guardian has written an article asserting that EU policy change was responsible in part for this situation.  He’s found a few so-called experts (like some guy Dr Mark Woolfe, head of food authenticity at the FSA)  to back this position up.

Since the Guardian is a left wing paper which actually criticises national and EU government initiatives, you can forget about Carrington’s piece (which is here in case you are interested – http://www.guardian.horsemeat-scandal ).

But why is the EU so keen to insist no one’s got sick?  This is what they said about any import bans:-

Owen Paterson, the British environment secretary… ruled out restrictions on imports of European meat into Britain, saying that such measures could be considered only if food safety issues were involved.

“’This appears to be an issue of fraud and mislabelling’” Mr. Paterson said.”

Yes, no health issues, just labelling.  Only the worst kind of cynic would think that the EU was more interested in politics, power, damage limitation (or heaven forbid money) than our health. Furthermore, we can’t have countries just going around deciding what they’re going to do on their own, can we?  Where would we be then?  If only there was something in place to give farmers a fair, just and reasonable financial aid…

Common Agricultural Policy (modern EU compound Proper noun) an European Union system by which farmers and agricultural land holders are given a subsidy.

Perhaps if we were only willing to contribute some small amount of money to farming in the EU, things like this wouldn’t happen. Here is a quote which may be of interest on that score:-

“The CAP cost British consumers £6.7bn in 1998 and taxpayers footed a further £3.4bn to fund the scheme. The total was equivalent to £3.30 per person per week in Britain, or £250 per year for every man, woman and child.” – Elliott Morley, Agriculture Minister, 1999

Ah the old days of the 1990s, when there was hardly any money to go around.

I guess we’d better up the subsidies or we might wind up with more ‘labelling problems’ (which are of course not serious or anything to worry about).  You might think this level of subsidies was quite a (horse) gravy train, but you’d be wrong.  In fact, a website tells you a bit more about the value for money we get from CAP http://farmsubsidy.org/news/features/2012-data-harvest/ .

I must say, the figures we’re talking about start to make the granite web’s cost look as inconsequential as the web itself looked.

I’m sure every CAP penny is fully accounted for and only spent on practical necessities (although the Guardian would have you believe differently guardian-budget-battle-brussels ).  Just because the EU has issues with creating a complete, transparent set of accounts which can be successfully audited, approved and published, doesn’t mean anything’s amiss.

Finally, lots of the blame seems to be falling on Romania, where this type of food labelling might or might not have started.  The Romanians quite rightly threatened to veto the new EU budget; it seems they were unhappy with a few things including their CAP.  I guess this threatened veto and its implication in the ‘labelling’ problem might answer the question posed by Monty Python: ‘What did the Romanians ever do for us?”  (Just don’t mention the Price Wars).

Supermarket Price Wars (Modern English compound noun)

I’m sure it’s completely unrelated to the way EU policy is implemented in the UK, but supermarkets put a tiny bit of pressure on farmers to get the most produce for the least money.  You would think CAP subsidies would make up for any low profit margins.

CAP subsidies are easy enough to get in the UK – there is hardly any paperwork (if you’re an accountant and EU law expert); there is no bureaucracy (e.g. most animals need 3 ear tags for openers or farmers are fined) , and our government always pays EU subsidies to farmers accurately and quickly (except for that time we got fined a few million by the EU for making farmers wait months for their subsidies).

Back to the supermarket issues.  We all know that petrol prices, rail freight, taxes and so on have had tiny increases.  This has made farmers costs go up like everyone else’s have.  Are they getting more money from the big chains to cover their costs?  Not so much.  Our benevolent supermarket chains strive to keep customers happy.

Someone’s profit margins have to go down for the prices to stay low, and it’s certainly not going to be the supermarket’s

This is not because they want to gain as much of the market share for the grocery sector as possible; nor because they want to make it so small competitors don’t stand a chance.  It’s because they genuinely like us all, and want to give us as much stuff as cheaply as possible.  And that’s where the farmer happily plays his part.

The supermarket price wars are the never-ending battle between the giant chains to keep their prices as low as possible.  Result!  Farmers might get just a little bit squeezed.  Someone’s profit margins have to go down for the prices to stay low, and it’s certainly not going to be the supermarket’s profits that get cut.

Has a farmer grown carrots which are not all identical in size and shape?  He or she will have to get rid of the bad ones, and only get paid for the perfect looking ones.  Farmers should be grateful big chains buy their produce at all.

Where does animal welfare fit into the supermarket price wars?  Your customers who care about how animals in the food chain are treated when alive and/or who can afford to pay for better looked after animals will buy free range, organic chickens.  Those on a budget will find there’s budget meat for you.  Just don’t expect the animals have had a great life in the outdoors on the farm.  And as we now know, don’t even expect the animal meat you buy is the meat you think you’re buying.

Maybe it’s time we started buying food from local producers directly.  Maybe it’s time we stopped insisting our vegetables should all be perfectly formed.  Maybe we should make animal welfare a priority, and stop shipping live animals around the country (and the world).

Or maybe we should just sit back, have a frozen shepherd’s pie or two, and wait for the EU to make it all better.  Eventually.

Are you really so hungry you could eat a horse?

If perhaps you would rather ‘aid a horse’ ….. read on.

Some people have this crazy notion that horses are animals that work all of their lives, and deserve to be treated with more dignity than to be sold off as burgers when they age.

One such place is the Bransby Home of Rest for Horses, Mountains Animal Sanctuary (which had some of its Christmas donations stolen and its premises vandalised ) – and of course locally we have Willows, which is inundated with abandoned horses and ponies.

These and similar organisations get just a little bit less than are doled out in EU CAP subsidies.  If you can spare some time or money, you could do worse than making a donation to an animal welfare charity of your choice.

 Next week:  a look at the exciting new plans for golf course No. 2 for the lucky Menie residents, a look at Aberdeen city’s plans, and for me, a look at my vegetarian cookbooks.

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Dec 112012

Aberdeen Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (AbSPSC) has organised an evening of protest/political tunes and poetry to help fundraise for the Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project. With thanks to Mike Martin.

Thousands of Palestinian families in the West Bank are being displaced, losing their land to make way for illegal settlers supported by the Israeli state.
Tens of thousands of olive trees have been destroyed in the process, many of which have been cared for by the same Palestinian families for generations.

The Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project seeks to assist Palestinians in their struggle to rebuild their livelihoods by providing the means to plant trees indigenous to Palestine’s natural environment and agricultural life.

Plant-a-Tree in Palestine is a joint project between the Middle East Children’s Alliance, the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (Stop the Wall) and the Palestinian Farmers Union

The evening will feature the music of Mark Ayling, Simon Gall and Maze McPunklet as well as the poetry of the marvellous Hilda Meers!

Entry: £6 – and for an additional £6 you will also receive a certificate to say you’ve donated a tree to Palestine.

Thursday 13th December
From 7:30pm

Cellar 35
Rosemount Viaduct