Andrew Stark, Land Use Policy Officer RSPB Scotland, provides a summary of how the Good Food Nation Bill should be making Scotland’s food system better for nature by putting nature at the heart of agricultural practices.

Food is vitally important. Everyone needs it, and the way it is produced, processed, and distributed can have both positive and negative consequences for the food system. Reforming our food systems, so they help our natural environment & species, our climate and people, is key. Food is also a devolved policy matter across the different governments in the UK and in Scotland, we have a key opportunity with the Good Food Nation Bill to make this system change a reality.

The Food System is broken

As stated in the recently published report, ‘Good Food Nation: Why and How’, from the Scottish Food Coalition, Scotland's food system is broken. Under the current system, healthy diets are not affordable, workers’ rights are being eroded, and many individuals rely on food banks. Agriculture in particular has also long been identified as a leading cause of nature loss and climate emissions, through the historical intensification and specialisation of farming practices. We also know that farming & crofting can be good for wildlife, with nature friendly farming methods providing homes and food sources to many farmland birds for instance.

Whilst nature is key, it is not the only part of the food system. RSPB Scotland are a founding member of the Scottish Food Coalition (SFC), an organisation formed of over 40-member NGO’s and charities who are all working on different aspects of the food system, whether that be the environment, health, poverty, or animal welfare. Together, we have been working to ensure that policies in Scotland support a healthy and sustainable food system that works for both people and the planet. We have also been longstanding campaigners for a Good Food Nation Bill, the name for a proposed new law on food.

The Good Food Nation Bill – can it fix Scotland’s food system?

The Good Food Nation Bill (GFN) aims to consider the food system as a whole, recognising that we need a new holistic approach to our food system. But the Bill needs a lot of improvements to make this a reality.

The Good Food Nation Bill was first introduced by the Scottish Government in October 2021, where it goes through 3 different stages before eventually becoming a law. The Bill is currently in the final stage (3), having just had its Stage 2 debate (11/5/22). This involved the lead committee (in this case the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee) scrutinising the bill line-by-line and making changes, or amendments, to the Bill. We work with MSPs to lodge amendments to the Bill and make the Bill as strong as it can be.

Creating a strong framework to transform Scotland’s food system requires carefully fitting its elements together, like a jigsaw puzzle (Source: Good Food Nation: Why and How report).

Amendments are critical to the success of the Bill

At first, the Bill only committed the Scottish Government, local authorities and health boards to writing and consulting on food plans for the food system, every 5 years. Whilst this is a positive first step, alongside other members of the SFC we believed it needed to be strengthened to address the different issues within the food system such as nature loss, workers’ rights, health and poverty.

We called for the Good Food Nation Bill to have strong language on the Right to Food, by making the purpose of the food plans to realise the Right to Food for all in Scotland (watch this short explainer video on the Right to Food here). We also called for the addition of ambitious and bold targets, with one such target being for the Good Food Nation plans to aim to halve the environmental impact of Scotland’s food system by 2030. Another change we proposed was for an independent Food Commission to be created; a new public body to oversee and guide Scotland’s progress in making the GFN vision a reality. We believe this Commission needs to be independent of government – so that it can give us a true picture of the whole system. It would provide essential scrutiny and inform us about what is already good about Scotland’s food system and what needs to improve.

What’s next for the Good Food Nation Bill?

Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful with many amendments at stage 2. You can read more in this blog from SFC members Nourish Scotland about the shared disappointment in the outcome of the committee meeting, and why we need to continue to improve the Bill. But we still have one more chance, at the stage 3 debate in June, to lodge amendments on environmental targets and getting a Food Commission commitment from the Scottish Government.

People in Scotland passionately care about food, and they want to see the food system changed. We recently held a Day of Action outside the Scottish Parliament to demonstrate this to MSPs, which was a great success. There were 26 MSPs attending from all parties and speaking to their constituents about the Good Food Nation Bill and listening to their views on why it’s such a crucial piece of legislation. We were able to demonstrate collectively to MSPs the urgent need for food system reform to address the multiple issues facing our food system, including the role of food in the nature and climate crisis.

SFC Supporters and RSPB Scotland staff with MSPs outside the Scottish Parliament

The Policy and Advocacy team at RSPB Scotland are working hard with other members of the Scottish Food Coalition to help improve the Good Food Nation Bill in stage 3. By getting more environmental measures and a Food Commission in the Bill, we can make Scotland’s food system better for nature. This can also help create join up between food and farming policy which is coming down the pipeline in Scotland, thereby supporting farmers and crofters in Scotland to continue putting nature at the heart of their agricultural practices.
If you have any questions about the Good Food Nation Bill or anything else mentioned, please get in touch with Andrew Stark (Land Use Policy Officer) – Andrew.Stark@rspb.org.uk

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