Report from Chris Smith
RULES and regulations governing food safety are threatening a wide range of highly innovative
One farmer who feels his business may no longer be viable is Andrew Johnston, of Hilton Farm, near Perth, who has a herd of farmed wild boar supplying a growing niche market.
Johnston, who has a breeding herd of 100 wild boar sows, has developed a range of outlets for his produce through farmers' markets and direct selling from Orkney to the Channel Islands. There are only 25 farms with wild boar in the UK, with six of them in Scotland. However, there is a rapidly expanding market among discerning customers who are willing to pay £4 per kilo for this distinctive taste.
Johnston's problem is that he is caught in a web of red tape which involves the Meat Hygiene Service and local environmental health officers. Johnston would like to expand his operation by taking in meat from other producers.
He is unable to do so because he does not have a meat cutting licence, which would have to be granted by the MHS.
He said: "It looks as if the regulations are penalising the small-scale operator unfairly. We do not know in what direction to move as there is new legislation coming in all the time and what we might do now may not be appropriate in future." Currently he is permitted by local environmental health officials, who he describes as taking a commonsense approach, to cut meat from his own boar enterprise, but is barred from taking in meat from other producers unless it has been processed into such items as sausages and mince.
Johnston must only sell to "final customers," which in practice means he cannot sell through an agent who might then offer the produce for re-sale. Should he wish to take in meat from other suppliers he would have to apply for a licence to operate as a "meat cutting plant".
That prospect, claims Johnston, is likely to put a stop to the plans of several farmers seeking to diversify and grow their businesses.
Even a relatively small-scale cutting plant is estimated to cost at least £100,000.
Johnston is undecided whether to continue with his wild boar enterprise in view of the burden of current and future legislation.
He said: "I think we have proven to the public that we make a product they want, but the authorities are not making life easy for those of us trying to supply that demand."
© The Herald, 5 th May 2004
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