Reassessing rural life, food and sustainability

30th March 2001 at 01:00
The tragedy of the foot-and-mouth outbreak is affecting children far beyond the rural areas where they confront its consequences every day. Pictures of pyres and pits do nothing to reassure children about the ways of the adult world.

But there can be a more optimistic view if young people and their elders come to accept that the tragedy highlights the need for a reassessment of what we eat and how we provide it. Food mass produced for the supermarkets and costing a far smaller proportion of people's total spending than at any time since the agricultural and industrial revolutions often sacrifices quality for cheapness.

The processes used in rearing animals and growing crops are little known to most urban dwellers. Children would be horrified if they knew the contrast between the toy fars they play with and the agribusinesses that dominate today.

We have a duty to teach young people about sustainability. They are eager to learn about welfare - their own and animals'. As they pass through school they are more willing to challenge apparently acceptable practices in a way their parents choose not to.

It is a pity, however, that just when the Scottish Executive should be wakening up to the new challenge in education as well as in agriculture and fisheries, the First Minister has dispensed with a minister for the environment. By adding the environment to the responsibilities of the Minister for Rural Affairs, he has downgraded its importance and allied it to a department traditionally tied to the interests of big farmers.

Alison Anderson Ladywell Livingston

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