Good Food Bill

Declan Allison

09 December 2016

Our food system is characterised by inequality and exploitation at all levels.

Though there are still some reasons to be hopeful - the Scottish Government have confirmed that they will introduce a Good Food Nation Bill in to the Parliament in 2017/18. This Bill could be the first of its kind in Europe by taking a framework and rights-based approach towards a fairer food system.

One of the biggest challenges with food is that food governance is fragmented across a large number of decision-making portfolios with very limited strategic direction, and few opportunities for cumulative assessment. And the voices of people at the sharp end of food injustice are often drowned out by the powerful agribusiness lobby.

The resulting scale of the problem is daunting – from around 27% of people having incomes too low to enable access to a nutritious diet, to two thirds of adults being overweight or obese, to 70% of people working in catering and hospitality having jobs that pay below the real Living Wage, to 46% of farms failing to recover their annual costs, to 44% of eco-system services being in decline, to agriculture and related land-use alone contributing 23% of climate emissions, to a third of food being wasted at all stages of the food chain.

That’s a lot of simultaneous failings, and that’s just the domestic challenges. More than two thirds of the land used for our food and feed consumption is outside of the UK – the externalisation of environmental and social responsibility with limited oversight has serious impacts ranging from land-grabs to child labour.

So what could the Good Food Nation Bill do?

It’s not yet clear what exactly the Scottish Government’s plan for the Bill is, but it could and should protect and progress the right to food by placing a duty on Scottish Ministers to create a Food Rights and Responsibilities Statement. This would bring cabinet-level coherence and direction to food policy, and create a structure for reviewing progress. An aide to this could be the creation of a statutory and independent Food Commission that would report annually to Parliament on a series of statutory targets, scrutinise relevant law and policy, and with the power to initiate research and hear complaints.

Whilst this may be a novel approach in Europe, it’s not a new concept globally. In fact, all UK nations currently have right to food obligations from Westminster’s ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976. However, those rights were never incorporated into our domestic legal system meaning effective socio-economic rights have somewhat always been an empty promise. Prompted by the dramatic rise of household food insecurity two separate UN Committees made strong recommendations to the UK Government this year to take a framework approach towards resolving these challenges.

Stormont has the power to legislate here and could introduce a similar Bill. Though the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to even send someone over to the recent UN review of socio-economic rights compliance doesn’t inspire much hope.

Elli Kontorravdis is the Policy & Campaigns Manager with Nourish Scotland.