Copyright 2004

[ June 26th 2004 ]

What a difference a day makes. First day of the Highland Show on Thursday: torrential rain, mud and misery. Second day: blue sky, sunshine, warmth and Nell McAndrew. For reasons best known to her publicity team, Miss McAndrew dressed as a 1950s American-diner waitress to celebrate the first birthday of "The White Stuff Milk Moustache" campaign to increase milk sales. But opinion from a straw poll of farmers was that she could have worn anything her team could dream up, or even nothing at all, and the effect would have been the same - sensational.

Her appearance, part of a joint initiative by the Scottish Dairy Marketing Company and the Milk Development Council, even drew some enthusiasts away from the livestock judging rings. Only a supermodel could strike at the heart of the show like that. Miss McAndrew said: "Iíve had a great time. Everyone has been lovely and Iím proud to be part of a campaign that is having such a positive effect on peopleís perceptions of milk and is helping to improve their general health, especially children." Not a word about payment either. What a girl.

The campaign has had results already, according to its organisers. They say independent research has shown that the message is reaching children. More than 71 per cent of a sample interviewed recently said that they liked milk, 20 per cent more than last autumn. Scottish egg producer-retailers - those who sell the eggs their hens produce directly to the public, shops and supermarkets - hope something similar, or even better, will happen as a result of their "Only the shell can tell" campaign. A modest affair by comparison with supermodels, milk and a few hundred thousand pounds - although backed by £8,000 from the Scottish Executive - the campaign is designed to get the Scottish public to eat more of the Scottish eggs they can now identify by the SCO mark on the shell.

That, said Moira Henderson, who has 11,500 hens on a farm near Cupar and is chair of the Scottish Egg Producer Retailers Association, is a great improvement on the digital code for Scotland on eggs that consumers were supposed to recognise. She said the association also wanted to emphasise that a recent Food Standards Agency survey found no cases of salmonella in Scottish eggs - unlike those from several other countries, which not only sent eggs to Scottish shops, but were allowed to produce them under conditions that would be illegal in Scotland.

Brushing aside attempts by journalists to ambush Ross Finnie, the environment and rural development minister, with questions about beef subsidies, she went on: "Weíre talking about eggs. While other agricultural sectors are now being encouraged to produce what the market wants and reduce the need for subsidies, the egg industry has led the way and worked without subsidies for years."

Mr Finnie, gas only momentarily at a peep - no mean achievement in itself to do that to a minister who has not so much bounced as trampolined back from heart surgery a few months ago - corrected her gently on a point of fact about battery cages, then said: "Agriculture is the primary cog in the food chain. To become the best, we need to improve links through that chain and encourage primary producers to work more closely with consumers. Thatís what egg producers are doing." Then he raced off to pedal a forest bicycle to highlight Forestry Commission cycle routes. Amazing what a little sunshine can do.

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