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Good Food Nation Bill 'a step in the right direction'

By Tom Ramage

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The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill, passed in Parliament last week, has been warmly welcomed by the Scottish Food Coalition, an alliance of over 45 organisations including small-scale farmers and growers, academics, workers' unions and charities focused on the environment, health, poverty and animal welfare.

"We know that the challenges facing our food system are connected and we need to work across the whole system to achieve a healthy, fair and sustainable future," explained a spokesperson for the alliance.

"The bill's passing marks a seminal moment in Scottish food policy, through the creation of a strong and cohesive legislative pathway that will help facilitate and deliver a better food system for Scotland."

Stephanie Mander, senior policy officer at Nourish Scotland (left) and Highlands and Islands campaignerTheona Morrison (right), at the campaigning event outside Scottish Parliament on April 26, (Picture: Elaine Livingstone)
Stephanie Mander, senior policy officer at Nourish Scotland (left) and Highlands and Islands campaignerTheona Morrison (right), at the campaigning event outside Scottish Parliament on April 26, (Picture: Elaine Livingstone)

Many challenges remained though and swift progress had to be made to build on the momentum created by the bill and deliver its vision for Scotland’s food system.

Scotland is the first of the UK devolved nations to create such a food law and the bill was passed with the unanimous support of the Scottish Parliament. It was hailed as a progressive step and a clear response to growing public concerns about food.

Campaigning by citizens, food banks, trade unions and farming organisations has not let up. In the last two weeks alone, over 850 letters have been sent by members of the public in support of the Bill and the Food Commission.

This new legislation requires Scottish Ministers, local authorities and health boards to produce National and Local Food Plans and report regularly on progress. The plans will need to consider a broad range of food-related issues, including social and economic wellbeing, the environment, animal welfare, health outcomes and child poverty. Crucially, the bill establishes a new independent statutory body – a Food Commission – to support and review the delivery of the plans.

The legislation is the first attempt to take a systems-based approach to food issues, by acknowledging explicitly the many elements involved in getting food from farm to plate as well as their wider impacts on nature and climate, health and wellbeing, and local economic development.

"Although the bill itself, and its associated measures, represent real progress, more will be needed to address the many systemic issues impacting our food system – e.g. increasing household food insecurity, health-related food concerns and the lack of food workers’ rights," said Professor Mary Brennan, chair of the coalition.

"Not putting the Right to Food into Scots law and the absence of targets as part of the bill are seen as missed opportunities. It is imperative that targets now be embedded into the food plans and the Scottish Government must hold to its promise to include and incorporate the Right to Food in forthcoming Human Rights legislation."

But the professor added: "After a long and winding journey, we warmly welcome the passing of the bill. Whilst congratulating all the efforts made to date, the hard work is only really beginning to deliver on the Scottish Government’s vision for a Good Food Nation for all.

"Going forward, it is essential a strong, agile and dynamic independent Scottish Food Commission emerges and that coherent national and local food plans are developed that support and drive forward better outcomes for all.

"We remain steadfastly committed to delivering on the purpose and vision of the bill. We look forward to providing support and guidance in the creation and work of the new Food Commission whilst continuing to robustly represent the voices and lived experiences of civil society stakeholders from across our food system.”

Vicki Swales, head of land use policy at RSPB Scotland said: “We face a nature and climate emergency and our food system is a significant contributor to this. We must transition as fast as possible to more environmentally sustainable food production and consumption. National and local food plans, scrutinised by the new Food Commission, must set out clearly how we are going to do this.”

Despite the commitments to create a Food Commission, more work was needed to truly change Scotland’s food system, said Polly Jones, head of Scotland at Trussell Trust.

"Food insecurity is rising across Scotland because people do not have enough money from work and social security to buy the essentials. The Good Food Nation Bill was an opportunity to tackle these systemic issues and create the framework for a better food system – and it falls far short.”

Ms Jones added: "Together with the Scottish Food Coalition, we will continue campaigning for statutory targets to reduce food insecurity, to enshrine the right to food in Scots Law and for universal free school meals for every child. We can't be a good food nation when thousands of Scots are going hungry”.

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