The 16th of October marks World Food Day, which aims to raise awareness of worldwide concerns such as food poverty, health, and the environment. Science Communication student Sophie Goodchild shares the challenges and opportunities that we are faced with while we strive to become a good food nation. 

Why becoming a Good Food Nation is Necessary for Wildlife Conservation

Happy World Food Day!

Today is a day to celebrate food - something that we all have in common. Food nourishes us, and is a source of joy, and many people are deeply passionate about growing, cooking, eating, and sharing food.

Caroline Thomas (rspb-images.com)

In Scotland, we are committed to becoming a ‘Good Food Nation’, where our whole food system – from farm to fork – contributes to a greener, healthier, and fairer society.

However, while many of us enjoy our favourite foods on a regular basis, we often have little idea where our food has come from. In Scotland, we have an uncomfortable relationship with food, with diets often lacking in nutritional benefit, variety and freshness. Diet-related ill-health is growing, with around two-thirds of Scottish adults overweight or obese. A too-large proportion of British children live in food poverty (28%), as their families struggle to afford the food they need.

Alongside the social and health impacts of our food system, we also struggle with the environmental impacts. Surveys of bird populations have found dramatic declines in a variety of Scotland’s farmland birds. For example, from 1994 to 2016, there have been declines in numbers of curlew (-62%), oystercatchers (-44%), kestrels (-85%), and lapwings (-63%). Agriculture and related land use accounts for around one quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions and 630,000 tonnes of food is wasted each year by Scottish households. Most of this is avoidable, and contributes to further greenhouse gas emissions from decomposing food, and increasing pressure on land to produce food that is never eaten.

While many farmers and crofters do good things for the environment, changing agricultural practices over many decades has affected the ability of wildlife to find food and shelter. Agriculture’s use of pesticides reduces insect variety and thus food availability for birds. Modern harvesting and changes to winter-sown cropping also leaves less food available. Soils are degrading, reducing the capacity to grow food and increasing the risk of flooding and fertiliser run-off causing pollution in watercourses. Draining fields removes damp areas that are important for food and provide a home for wildlife.

A crofter & his dogs shepherding sheep near to Moine House, Sutherland, Highland region. Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).

But there are a number of ways in which Scottish food production can become more nature-friendly. Hedgerows and field margins provide habitat for insects and birds. Keeping wet features, such as ponds creates a home for wading birds. Growing flower margins on a small proportion of land help pollinators thrive. Spring crops improve habitat diversity for birds and keeping seed-rich areas would provide more bird food.

There is hope for a better food system – from farm to fork – and for people and wildlife. Scotland aims to lead the way in improving the food system. Scottish Government have committed to becoming a Good Food Nation since 2014, with a Good Food Nation Bill – a new law to change the food system - proposed since 2016. A new law would drive change in the whole food system to improve the sustainability, the environment and wildlife, animal welfare, public health, social security, and culture impacts of food. Scotland aspires to become a Good Food Nation by 2025, where a positive relationship with food will be second nature.

Many Scottish farms use these ‘high nature value’ farming methods, but to change the environmental aspects of the food system, farmers and crofters need to be better supported to farm with the environment in mind. Alongside changes in farming practice, crucially, we need changes across the whole food supply chain. 45% of farmers or crofters in 2017 didn’t make enough to pay themselves a decent wage, but with changes in the whole food system, we could improve the situation for farmers and crofters – and for wildlife. Investing in shorter supply chains can provide more opportunities and increase fairness for farmers and crofters, while making us all more aware of where our food comes from and how it was produced. Consumers would have greater ability to choose ethically produced, high quality food. Farmers and crofters would have more opportunity to sell produce directly.

And, as consumers and citizens, we can think about asking questions about food, where it comes from, and how it is produced, and we can make changes to how we buy and eat food. For example:

  • A change to a diet richer in plants and eating less, but better quality meat and dairy;
  • Buying directly from farms where you know how food was produced, supporting local farmers while choosing environmentally friendly food;
  • Choosing with the environment in mind, looking out for labels like organic, Leaf Marque, and Pasture Fed;
  • Wasting as little as possible, making the most of what our land can produce.

Luing cow and Calf, RSPB Oronsay Nature Reserve. Morgan Vaughan (rspb-images.com).

RSPB Scotland are working as part of the Scottish Food Coalition to ensure that Scottish Government continue to drive forward change in the food system, and strongly believe that a Good Food Nation law is crucial in doing so. Food is the solution to many of our environmental and societal problems; these are not isolated from each other, and a new law must have the natural environment at its heart, alongside health, social justice, animal welfare, workers’ rights and more.

So this World Food Day, let’s think a little extra about where our food comes from, and how we would like it to be produced. And let’s think about what becoming a Good Food Nation means to us, and how the Scottish Government can help.

For more information on the Scottish Food Coalition and to be kept up to date, visit: www.foodcoalition.scot

Further information can be found at:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/farming/near-you/farmland-bird-declines/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/farming/

http://www.nourishscotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Food-Atlas_FINAL_online.pdf

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