#NourishElectionAsks – Ask 2: A Food, Farming and Health Act

With just 5 weeks left until May 5th when Scotland elects its fifth Parliament, this week we’re focusing on our second policy ask: Primary legislation to transform Scotland’s food system – a ‘Food, Farming and Health Act’.

You can also have a look at all 6 Election Asks here, please use these asks to initiate conversations with candidates wherever the opportunity arises, and support Nourish to make sure that a fairer and more sustainable food system is a priority for the next Scottish Government.

Nourish are part of a growing civil society coalition that is working for a joined-up approach and a transformation of the whole food system. We are calling for primary legislation to be introduced in the next Parliament to facilitate this transformation: A Food, Farming and Health Act would aim to shift our food system towards one that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and delivering high levels of well being.

Why tackle all these issues together?

We are currently at crisis point on a number of fronts: People in Scotland are going hungry or are reliant on foodbanks in order to eat. At the same time, jobs in the food sector are insecure and poorly paid. Industrial scale agriculture is contributing massively to climate change and harming our wildlifeFarm animals suffer whilst antibiotic resistance continues apace, and more and more of us are suffering from poor health. Farmers, fishermen and workers in the food sector cannot make a decent living.

These issues are all urgent. They require a whole-scale transformation of the food system, tinkering at the edges, or focusing on any one of these problems at the expense of others is not enough. We need to approach them with an understanding of how they relate to each other, designing policies strategically to ensure they are effective today and into the future.

Why legislation?

Although many improvements could be made to the functioning of our food system through policy changes, Nourish and the Scottish Food Coalition believe it is time for framework legislation to put it on an entirely new footing. The last piece of legislation relating to agriculture was in 1947, times have changed and given the scale of the challenges ahead it is crucial we take some bold steps in a different direction.

Currently there is no mechanism to link up government policies from the various departments that relate to food. There is a continuing disconnect between our agriculture and fisheries, what we eat, and our health and wellbeing. If we are going to make the changes necessary, we need a coherent approach that recognises the links between food and health, food and the environment, food and fairness in society.


‘Eat-in’ on the Royal Mile, photo by Miheala Bodlovic for Edible Edinburgh

A ‘Food, Farming and Health Act’ would provide a framework for action. It would enshrine the Right to Food into Scottish law and promote agroecology as the farming method of the future, but crucially it would also change our approach to food, farming and health policies by creating a statutory Food Commission. This Commission would provide oversight and work with all relevant agencies according to agreed targets for our food system. It would report annually to Parliament on the State of Scotland’s Food System. It would be obliged to consult with civil society, and be able to commission research and issue advice to assist in the transition to a better food system.

A statutory Food Commission would therefore ensure we know what is going on. Currently we do not measure household food insecurity in Scotland, we have only limited understanding of the impact our food consumption is having on the environment, and we know we are consistently missing our dietary targets (with an unsustainable burden to our public health system) but do not know how to join the dots to make good, healthy food the norm. In the absence of overarching policies, an industry-led approach to the governance of our food system has been operating by default. Creating a statutory Food Commission, with a strong civil society participation mechanism, would facilitate a more democratic food system, with the wellbeing of the people in Scotland at its heart.

Where next?

We are calling for an enquiry into the future of food in Scotland, led by the Rural Affairs and Climate Change and Environment Committee, with input from other committees, as the first stage of shaping the Bill. We are also seeking engagement from other civil society organisations – food touches everything – and this is an opportunity to shape the future of our food system.

The Scottish Green Party have included a commitment to introducing a Food, Farming and Health Act in their manifesto, will the other parties follow suit? Please ask your candidates!