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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Good food for everyone

We have plenty of land in Scotland, and plenty of sea, and plenty of skilled people, scientists and innovators. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have plenty of good food for everyone.

That is the key message from the launch of the Scottish Food Coalition’s report: ‘Plenty: Food, Farming and Health in a New Scotland’ at UNISON House today. The coalition brings together a wide range of organisations that have an interest in developing a more progressive food policy in Scotland.

UNISON Scotland represents a wide range of workers in the food industry. From those who inspect food production at source and regulate the safety of food operations – to those who cook and serve food, particularly in our schools and hospitals. We also have a wider concern to ensure that food policy contributes to a more equal society that protects our environment. Our Food for Good Charter represents the approach we would like to see food policy take in future.

Our members working with food face significant pressures. From light touch regulation of meat inspection at Food Standards Scotland, to cuts in environmental health departments, food safety is being compromised. Catering staff are also trying to produce nutritious meals on ever smaller budgets. In our last member survey, most workers described the negative impact of spending cuts on the quality and quantity of the food they provided.

Our current food system is characterised by inequalities and exploitation. People face the double burden of poverty and ill health, whilst our natural resources, animals, and workforce are exploited. Today’s report covers four broad areas:

  1. The food system should value people. By taking action to prevent food poverty through the benefit system, to ensuring all employers pay at least the Scottish Living Wage. Equally important is creating democratic structures to facilitate public engagement that challenges the power of corporations.
  2. We need sustainable food production that ends the negative environment impacts on the food system and our climate. Championing CAP reform and properly enforcing food and environmental legislation by taking a whole system approach to the impact of food on climate change.
  3. The Scottish diet wins few accolades and we can do much more to improve our food culture. Food purchased with public money should be nutritionally balanced and sustainably sourced - joining up school catering with the curriculum and the community. In the private sector, caterers should be required to report on nutritional composition and pay a levy on the difference between their sales and national nutritional targets.
  4. We need to cut the length of food supply chains, creating a better connection to our food. We should strengthen planning to support diversity in town centres, including farmers markets and safeguard land for growing food. Encouraging community land ownership and community-connected agriculture, including allotments.

To drive these changes forward, the report proposes primary legislation that enshrines the Right to Food in legislation. It should include the creation of a statutory Food Commission that provides oversight and scrutiny of our food system – reporting directly to parliament.

For too long food policy has been addressed in silos, with the big commercial producers having the dominant say. This report is a first attempt at building a broader consensus that joins up the strands of policy into a coherent whole.


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