The long-awaited consultation on a Good Food Nation Bill was published just before Christmas – you can read it here. It is complex and confusing in places, but the proposals are significant.
This Bill will not suddenly change the way we produce or eat food: it is not banning junk food or pesticides. What it does, is to create the rules and tools with which we will be able to address the many complex issues around food in a joined-up, effective manner, and to bring fairness and sustainability in our food system.
Here are 3 key take-aways from the Good Food Nation Bill consultation:
The right to food will be at the heart of food policy
The consultation document states: “the Good Food Nation framework will focus on embedding processes for ensuring that the substance of the right to food has effect as a matter of everyday good practice.”
Making the right to food central in policy-making is hugely important. It will ensure for example that the Government provides responses to food insecurity which protect human rights and dignity. It can also help with other policy areas: access to land or fair wages are human rights issues, so provisions on the right to food in this Bill might provide levers to tackle these issues in the longer term.
However, by refusing to enshrine the right to food into law, the proposals fall short as there will be no obligation for decision-makers to protect or progress the right to food. We will therefore continue to push for a stronger commitment on the right to food.
The Government and Councils will have to develop a joined-up food policy
This is crucial. The Government proposes in this consultation to address diverse policy areas related to food in a joined-up way.
The “requirement for Scottish Ministers to set out a statement of policy on food” every 5 years, means that the Scottish Government will have to publish their cross-cutting plan for how they will deliver progress towards the Good Food Nation vision. This plan will have to cover “food production and consumption issues”, “access to affordable, local, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, and food in the public sector”. The breadth of these policy areas is positive, although we will be campaigning for a more specific list of policy areas to ensure no issue is forgotten.
Local authorities and health boards will have “similar requirements” to Scottish Ministers – meaning that they will have to publish and report on 5-yearly food plans in the same way.
This system bears resemblance with climate legislation: the Climate Bill does not say how we will cut emissions, it sets targets and requests Scottish Ministers to publish “policies and proposals” across all sectors with concrete measures. This system has focused the minds and delivered great results – making Scotland a world leader in its response to climate change. We want Scotland to also become a world leader in how we create a fair and sustainable food system.
The proposals of this consultation are a good start, but not quite enough. We will campaign for ambitious targets on various issues to focus the minds and ensure progress – for example reducing food waste, improving on-farm biodiversity, tackling obesity, or reducing food insecurity. We will also ask for the role of Parliament to be strengthened in shaping the Statements of Policy on Food: these 5-yearly food plans will be very important and therefore require a proper debate and democratic process.
There will be mechanisms to ensure progress
Finally, the consultation describes mechanisms to ensure progress: it proposes that the Statements of Policy on Food will “include indicators or measures of success” and that Ministers will have to “report every two years on implementation of the policy and to set out information on the indicators or measures of success”. This is good, but not enough: how will the Government be held to account if its progress report is not satisfactory?
The Government tells us in the consultation that they “do not see value in establishing an independent statutory body for the purpose of overseeing the Good Food Nation policy.” We strongly disagree.
To compare again with climate change policy, progress would have been much harder without the UK Commission on Climate Change – who provide independent advice and progress reports. Our food system is complex and requires urgent action to reverse decades of environmental harm and human misery.
We need an independent Food Commission which can ensure real progress is made towards achieving the Good Food Nation vision. We also need a stronger role for Parliament in holding Government accountable for progress.
We hope this helped you make sense of what the Good Food Nation Bill consultation is about. While it is very technical, the rules and tools proposed in this consultation are critical, and so are the missing ones: targets, scrutiny and accountability, an independent Food Commission.
We will therefore continue to campaign strongly for a transformational Good Food Nation Bill. But we can’t do it on our own, we need your help. We need hundreds and thousands of people to tell the Government that they care about this, and that this is not good enough.