Scotland En Route to Becoming a 'Good Food Nation'

A new law would strive for a fair, healthy, sustainable national food system.

man watering vegetables
A man waters vegetables in his garden allotment in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Reforming food systems is crucial if we are to hit our targets and avoid ever-worsening climate catastrophe. Discussions increasingly examine what this really means. In Scotland, the debate centers around what it means to be a "good food nation," and what it will take for the country to reach that end point. 

A Good Food Nation Bill

In 2014, the national food and drink policy set out the the vision that "by 2025, Scotland will be a Good Food Nation where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day."

A public consultation revealed widespread agreement for the call to change Scotland's food system, and there was overwhelming support for a new law on food, called the Good Food Nation Bill, to help transition to a fair, healthy, and sustainable food system. The Scottish Food Coalition and Nourish Scotland, along with other groups and individuals, have campaigned for this bill, which would provide a framework for the country's food system. 

Positive Steps in Food System Reform

It has now been announced that the Good Food Nation Bill is on the agenda for the next legislative period of the Scottish Government. And there is other good news from this year's Programme for Government. Campaigners are hopeful that many of the positive steps outlined in the Programme can bring us closer to a sustainable, more just food system. 

When it comes to farming, for example, there are positive signs in the clearer alignment of agricultural support with climate and nature outcomes, and a commitment to double the area of organic land. Steps towards making fishing and seafood more sustainable are also being made. 

Other signs for hope relate to land ownership. Pete Richie from Nourish Scotland summarized why land reform is such an important topic in the country:

"Small farms produce more food per acre and employ more people per meal. New entrants (especially new Scots) bring new ideas for farming and land use. We’ve enough land (and sea) to provide everyone who wants to produce food with an opportunity to do so, but the current system privileges incumbents and creates major barriers to entry."

The Programme for Government sets out more money for community ownership and a public interest test on large land sales with a presumption for community ownership. Access to land will also be further democratized through stronger tenant rights, funds for rural entrepreneurs, and a £50 million low carbon fund for derelict and vacant land. 

Further to this, the community wealth building act, town center renewal fund, and other strategies are good news for the local food economy. There are also commitments to improve things on the public health side of things, for example by restricting unhealthy promotions in the Public Health Bill.

More Work to Do

Pete Richie told Treehugger, "Lots of the bits of the food jigsaw are there in the Programme for Government but they’re not joined up—that’s why we need the Good Food Nation bill."

One thing that is missing from the Programme for Government is an explicit mention of the right to food. The right to food is a core idea which campaigners argue should be the bill's focus. Pete Richie continued, "The right to food should be at the heart of the Good Food Nation Bill: there's work to be done to make sure it is."

Consultation also begins this year on bringing new broad legislation to bear which pulls social, economic, and cultural rights (including the right to food) into Scots Law.

In addition to the right to food, campaigners for the Good Food Nation Bill also want to see an independent food commission, cross-cutting national food plants every five years and binding targets to stimulate immediate action on some of the main challenges within our food system.

Treehugger asked Richie what steps he considers most important for the government to take in terms of legislation to improve food systems in Scotland. He said,

"It’s a toss-up between binding targets on sustainable farming (including organic) and bold regulation on the food environment, e.g. a levy on multiple retailers and caterers based on how far their overall sales diverge from national dietary guidelines."

Scotland's food system leaves a lot to be desired. But the Programme for Government does at least put this topic firmly on the agenda. How effectively and how quickly the country can become a good food nation remains to be seen. Perhaps the country can learn from other countries as it seeks to reform the food system.

Pete Richie says we should look to "Italy on culture, France on agroecology and local food, Denmark and Andhra Pradesh on organics, Finland on local food, Brazil on dietary guidelines, Chile on labelling, Netherlands on glasshouses, Korea on food waste."

If campaigners are successful, perhaps Scotland will one day become an example for other countries looking to enshrine the right to food and become good food nations in their own right. But to truly become a Good Food Nation, the country has a long way to go.