Sleeping on the job

What is the point of Nourish? Ten years banging on about food and then what happened in the Programme for Government? Nothing. A space where something should have been.

Programme for Government sets out the Scottish Government’s priorities for the year ahead. Nutrition isn’t one of them. Organic farming isn’t one of them. The Good Food Nation plan isn’t one of them.

There are some nuggets: there will be a consultation on phasing out cages for laying hens, and that’s really good news. No-one who’s spent time with chickens would want to see them in a cage.

Even better; the Human Rights Act will be introduced to Parliament this year, bringing the right to healthy sustainable food into Scots law. And there’s a re-commitment to grow more of our food sustainably through the Agricultural Reform Programme, to provide universal free school meals up to P5, and to the vitally important Scottish Child Payment.

But we haven’t made food a top tier issue. And that’s not good, when food price inflation is still at 11% after peaking at 19% and the latest ONS data showed 10% of people living on a low income (and 28% of single parents) report running out of food in the last two weeks and not having enough money to buy more. And when the environmental impact of food systems is a core issue at COP28. And when our diets have overtaken smoking as the leading cause of preventable ill health, and healthy life expectancy in Scotland is falling, and inequality is growing. Men in the least affluent parts of Scotland can expect 45 years of healthy life (22 years short of pension age) compared with 69 years in the most affluent areas.

The tragedy of a global pandemic was a wake-up call. But clearly, we’re still snoozing. Where should we have found those missing words in Programme for Government if we’d been doing our job?

Under population health:

Recognising that we can’t have a wellbeing economy without healthy workers, to transform nutrition across the whole population starting with the first thousand days, taking a whole of government, whole of society approach

Under public health

Investing in public health and prevention is not a nice to have. It’s essential for a wellbeing society, and in the medium term it reduces pressure on the NHS, given that poor diets along with alcohol, tobacco, drugs and other ways we lead our lives contribute hugely to the burden of disease in Scotland. So we are committing to spend 5% of our NHS budget on ‘active health’ – measures to support healthy lives and keep people out of hospital.

Instead of a generic one-liner of ‘we are making real progress in being a Good Food Nation’:

The national Good Food Nation plan will join up transformative action across the whole food system, working with communities, businesses and local authorities to tackle deep-rooted challenges of dietary inequalities, the impact of food on nature and climate, fair work, animal welfare and local food economies. We will invest at scale in organic farming and agroforestry to do more for climate and nature, and we will support innovation in low-methane genomics, in horticulture (including under glass) and in novel crops to make our food system more climate-friendly, healthy and diverse. We’ll use some of our reformed agricultural support budget to fund local authorities to invest in local food economies and community-led food initiatives.

Either we didn’t send the memo, or they didn’t get it. Just over 11 months to go till the next one. Better get to work.