Consultation on good food nation bill closes on Friday
It is one of the basics of life – an absolute fundamental of existence.
We all need food, and in its provision and its production, the food system is hugely complex but interconnected.
Problems arising from it are often dealt with in isolation – foodbanks feed people who can’t get access to food, trade unions defend workers exploited in its production, health charities and the NHS deal with the fall out of bad diet and obesity.
But there has never been an attempt in public policy to find a unified approach to these problems, to devise legislation which would provide a cross cutting and also an overarching response to the issue of food.
This is a chance for Scotland’s third sector to make a huge difference, not just in Scotland, but on a world scale
But now Scotland’s third sector stands at the forefront of a new drive – what could almost be called a large scale social experiment – to transform how we look at food, and deal with all its challenges.
It would place the country at the forefront globally in tackling a problem which encompasses so many of the ills of modern life – from climate change and environmental degradation through poverty and hunger onto poor health and diet.
The scale of the problem is stark: over a third of working Scots worry about putting food on the table - and more and more people are forced to rely on foodbanks. At the same time, while many farmers and crofters go above and beyond for the environment, in other places, food production has contributed to declines in wildlife, soil and water quality, and climate-warming emissions.
Issues of food poverty, diet-related disease and exploitation of our workforce and our natural resources must all be addressed.
A new law to deliver Scotland’s Good Food Nation ambitions could help us do that.
Pete Richie of Nourish Scotland, one of the groups involved in drawing up the proposals, said: “This is a chance for Scotland’s third sector to make a huge difference, not just in Scotland, but on a world scale. This legislation would be world-leading. What a win it would be, for the third sector and for society. We cannot let this chance pass us by.”
The scale of the problem reflects the scale of the response. An unprecedented civil society coalition has formed, calling for a good food nation bill with a statutory right to food, incorporated in Scots law, at its heart. It would see joined-up policy making ensure everyone has reliable access to healthy sustainable food for themselves and their families.
The Scottish Food Coalition also believes there needs to be a statutory Scottish Food Commission to drive the necessary change towards a fairer, healthier, and more environmentally friendly food system.
It also wants to see a cross-cutting national food plan, new duties on public bodies to adhere to the right to food framework and statutory targets in key areas such as food poverty, healthy weight and food waste.
Despite warm words from government though it is taking a massive effort to get this off the ground. The Scottish Government committed to the creation of a Good Food Nation – but it was only hard campaigning by the charity sector which stopped the bill from being quietly dropped last year.
Finally a consultation was launched which will inform the policy, but it was launched the week before Christmas with next to no fanfare, and there has been criticism of how it is worded.
The coalition says that the plans cannot be allowed to die a quiet death, which could happen if it is smashed between the rocks of Brexit and a push for another Indyref.
Professor Mary Brennan, chair of the Scottish Food Coalition, said: “I urge everyone to respond to this consultation, the outcomes of which will shape how the Scottish food system is managed for generations to come.
“Scotland has an exciting opportunity to be world leading in placing food at the heart of all decision making. By doing so we can improve the quality, healthfulness, and environmental sustainability of our food while ensuring that those who produce and prepare it do so under fair, safe and secure conditions.”
Individuals and civil society groups are being urged to get behind the proposals, to lobby MSPs, to engage with the consultation, which closes on 29 March.
The noise from Brazil: South American experiment shows what’s possible in Scotland
Scotland would be a world leader if it implemented progressive, joined up Good Food Nation policies.
But nothing happens in isolation, and an experiment underway on the other side of the world hints at what’s possible.
Since 2004, Brazil has tried to take a rights-based approach to tackling food insecurity, attempting to join up policies on social assistance, health, education and labour.
The country created a baseline measurement of the various levels of food insecurity. A comprehensive population profile showed where the right to food was not being realised, and allowed the impact of public policies to be measured.
In recognition that eradicating food insecurity isn’t the job of a single government department or civil society campaign, Brazil established the National Council on Food and Nutrition Security (CONSEA), which includes 18 state ministers and 36 representatives from civil society.
Brazil passed the Federal Law for Food and Nutrition Security in 2006. This required the state to: “enforce the universal right to regular and permanent access to good quality food in sufficient quantities, based on healthy food practices which respect cultural diversity and which are environmentally, culturally, socially and economically sustainable.”
The country brought in a Zero Hunger Strategy to realise the right to food ranged from providing daily school meals for 37 million children and adolescents, building 200,000 cisterns in rural areas to help with the irrigation on family farms, skills training for 400,000 people and $1 billion in microcredit loans, offering local farmers choice spots of public space to sell to urban consumers, market interventions to ensure that nobody is priced out of good quality, healthy food, and many more.
Zero Hunger is credited with reducing inequality to the lowest level Brazil has seen in over 30 years. However, this good work has been put in jeopardy by the recent election of far right president Jair Bolsonaro, showing how precarious progressive gains can be, unless they are reinforced and entrenched by an engaged people and a committed civil society.
The scale of Brazil creates problems and challenges which dwarf Scotland’s – but the smaller scale of Scotland brings closer the chances of success.