AN ALLIANCE of 45 civil society organisations is calling for a new network of glasshouses and an independent watchdog as part of radical plans to fix the “broken” food system to make Scotland healthier and more environmentally friendly.
The Scottish Food Coalition which, includes consumer rights charity Citizens Advice Scotland, trade unions such as the Scottish Trades Union Congress, environmental groups such as RSPB Scotland and anti-poverty campaigners such as Nutrition Scotland want action having compiled evidence that shows Scotland’s food system causes a “staggering amount of negative consequences for our own health, natural environment, and wider society”.
They warn that the current system of growing, distributing and wasting food is driving the growing rates of diet-related disease, contributing significantly to climate change, and is the “leading cause” of biodiversity loss.
They say that it also does not deliver on food security as in Scotland nearly 10% of people worry about putting food on the table. While the Good Food Nation Bill, currently going through Parliament, currently proposes placing duties on the national government and local councils to produce food plans, campaigners argue this does not go far enough.
Among a host of recommendations, it calls for the establishment of an independent food commission to set ambitious and measurable targets and to make the right to food a legal right.
It is also suggested new investment should be put into the development of a new glasshouse sector in Scotland both on brownfield urban sites and in remote and island communities using renewable energy to grow “low carbon nutritious fruit and veg”. And they say ministers should also commission and fund new training programmes for small-scale agroecological farmers and market gardeners.
Professor Mary Brennan, chairman of the coalition said: “Our food system is broken and our people, animals (and fish), planet, communities and economy are suffering as a result. We must – and can – do better when it comes to food. To make progress, we urgently need robust legislation that brings together, and harnesses, our collective knowledge, power, resources and passion.”
Its analysis warned that poor diet contributes to four of the top five risk factors for early death, ill health and disability in Scotland.
They warn it places a “huge burden” on public services and society and account for the largest proportion of food’s hidden costs ahead of the damage caused to nature.
In 2020 the average adult Scottish diet was 40% above the recommended daily energy intake, and was too high in calories, fats, sugar and salt and too low in fruit, vegetables and fibre.
In the latest Scottish Health survey, 67% of adults (2020) and 30% of children (2019) were classified as overweight or obese.
The alliance’s dossier warns that the Food Chain charity believes that 103,000 people over 65 are at risk of suffering from malnutrition in Scotland.
The coalition questions the use of pesticides, fertilisers and imported animal feedstocks, saying it characterises the “intensive, industrialised agricultural model, including Scotland’s”.
They say that these are damaging in terms of carbon emissions, as well as to soil and water quality, and carbon storage.
The alliance says the environmental and financial cost of soil erosion alone, through the loss of valuable nutrients and pollution, is estimated at £50m per year in Scotland.
Avoidable food waste was estimated to account for 1.5m tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions, and costs us £1.1bn a year or £470 per household.
Among 50 recommendations for national and local policies it suggest a new food commission which it said would help curb “tensions, conflicts and missed policy opportunities” caused by the different local and national government portfolios, departments and public bodies with responsibility for food issues.
The alliance said: “It would provide advice and scrutiny to the Government. This is critical for the food system’s just transition, as Scotland’s economy responds to the climate, nature and health crises.
“The Commission’s remit must cover all foodrelated issues, for example, from community food-growing to migrant fisheries workers’ rights, from farmed salmon’s welfare to the obesogenic food environment, from ending the need for food banks to the wider impact of pesticides.”
It said the commission would act like the UK Committee on Climate Change, and and recognise the need for joined-up policy across departments and between local and national government.
It would undertake research and make recommendations based on evidence and current progress towards targets and bring out an annual report on the state of Scotland’s food system and on progress made on realising the right to food.
The groups’ masterplan also calls for incentives so that fishing businesses limit “damaging practices” like dredging and trawling by ensuring quotas are conditional on good practice and workers’ rights.
And they say there should be mandatory reporting on supply chain waste by large businesses and a requirement that delivery services take back packaging or meet the disposal costs.
The coalition said: “To improve public health, protect and restore the environment and deliver a raft of economic and social benefits, we will require a concise set of measurable outcomes. These should be crafted based on public consultation, with local flexibility in how they are delivered, and with explicit mechanisms – and funding – for independent monitoring, research and innovation.
“In this way, our food system can be remodelled, and peoples’ lives transformed.
“This is no pipe dream: communities the length and breadth of Scotland are already showing how it can be done. From Shetland’s vibrant local food economy to the charity that supports older people to access healthy food in Dundee; from the Perth food waste company working with local authorities to overcome barriers to recovering green and food waste, to the small businesses joining forces to operate short supply chains in Dumfries & Galloway and the Borders.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have been working across government through an extensive programme of measures to deliver on our ambition to be a Good Food Nation.
“The Good Food Nation Bill, introduced to Parliament last year, will ensure Scottish Ministers and relevant authorities will produce good food nation plans to support social and economic wellbeing, the environment, health and economic development.
“The wide-ranging plans required by this Bill will help ensure good quality, locally sourced and produced food is a practical everyday reality for everyone.
“As part of the development of the Bill we committed to considering the need to create a statutory body, such as a Food Commission, and are giving careful consideration to the options available to provide any oversight role for delivery of the provisions in the Good Food Nation Bill.”