More rights, better food

In many ways, the incorporation of human rights treaties in Scots law is the most ambitious and far-reaching part of the agenda for the new Scottish Parliament. The new law will not just incorporate economic, social and cultural rights: it will also strengthen protection against discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, disability, age, and sexuality. And it will establish a specific right to a healthy environment.

So what does it mean for food? Of course, the right to food is an integral part of economic, social and cultural rights, along with the right to health, the right to housing and the right to enjoy an adequate standard of living.

These are positive rights – not just freedom from persecution and injustice, but freedom to participate in society. Likewise the right to a health environment creates the precondition for living a long and healthy life, not one foreshortened by pollution or disease.

The conventions which outlaw discrimination against women, against disabled people and against people from an ethnic minority are not just about treating people ‘the same’. They are also about reshaping our social institutions, removing barriers and adapting provisions so that everyone has the freedom to flourish.

Collectively, all these rights support and contribute to the right to food. Stronger housing rights means less people sleeping rough or living in insecure and inadequate accommodation which makes is so much harder to eat well. A right to mental health treatment will help break the two-way link between mental health problems and food insecurity. Older people are more likely to become malnourished during and after a stay in hospital, a form of indirect discrimination which goes against their right to food.

The right to a healthy environment has major implications for the way we produce food. It means protecting people from the health impacts of ammonia and pesticides. More fundamentally, it’s about ensuring that governments are doing all they reasonably can to restore nature and tackle climate change.

Finally – depending on the ruling of the Supreme Court – we will be seeing the incorporation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Scotland. Of course this specifically includes children’s right to food. It means babies and children having the right to grow up in nourishing, tasty and varied food environments.

The full incorporation reframes the social contract between people and government, with government holding itself accountable for a core standard of wellbeing, equality and inclusion for all the people of Scotland. This will have major implications for how the government operates, requiring more joined-up policy making and whole-system perspective. This too, would be very good news for food – an issue that cuts across many departments from health, social justice and rural affairs to name just a few.

Whether the right to food is incorporated as part of the Good Food Nation bill, or whether it comes later as part of a wider Bill, incorporating rights across the board is essential if we are going to realise the right to food in Scotland.