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Responding to the National Good Food Plan

Responding to the National Good Food Plan

This week, Soil Association Scotland responded to the Scottish Government consultation on the National Good Food Plan.

Delivery of a national food plan was a requirement of the Good Food Nation Act, passed by parliament with cross party support in 2022. Essentially, the plan sets out the government’s goals for food policy, and how it intends to achieve them.

We previously set out the key points we wanted to see addressed, including the need for dietary change, reduced consumption of ultra-processed foods, support for organic production and continued backing for the Food for Life programme to encourage healthy and sustainable diets.

What does the plan say?

There are six main outcomes in the plan.

  • Outcome 1: Everyone in Scotland eats well with reliable access to safe, nutritious, affordable, sustainable, and age and culturally appropriate food.
  • Outcome 2: Scotland’s food system is sustainable and contributes to a flourishing natural environment. It supports our net zero ambitions, and plays an important role in maintaining and improving animal welfare and in restoring and regenerating biodiversity.
  • Outcome 3: Scotland’s food system encourages a physically and mentally healthy population, leading to a reduction in diet-related conditions.
  • Outcome 4: Our food and drink sector is prosperous, diverse, innovative, and vital to national and local economic and social wellbeing. It is key to making Scotland food secure and food resilient, and creates and sustains jobs and businesses underpinned by fair work standards.
  • Outcome 5: Scotland has a thriving food culture with a population who are interested in and educated about good and sustainable food.
  • Outcome 6: Scotland has a global reputation for high-quality food that we want to continue to grow. Decisions we make in Scotland contribute positively to local and global food systems transformation. We share and learn from best practice internationally.

While we broadly support these outcomes, we suggested amendments, including one reflecting that the food system should provide a fair return to primary producers (farmers, crofters and growers) by strengthening the position of farmers, crofters and growers in the supply chain. We also suggested the plan needs to be honest about the current state of our diets here in Scotland – two out of three people in Scotland are overweight or obese. Our diets must improve if the ambition of a “physically and mentally healthy population” is to be achieved.

Setting targets

There is a section of the plan on targets, but the majority were existing Scottish Government commitments. We also thought there were some missing. For example, we called for a goal of reaching 15% organic in public procurement. Organic production delivers on government objectives around climate and biodiversity, while increasing the amount of land managed organically is part of the government’s Vision for Agriculture. While the current public sector spend on organics is very small, we have suggested this 15% target could be phased in, with an interim 5% target by 2030.

We have also called for a percentage reduction target to be set for the consumption of ultra-processed food in national dietary guidance, as has happened in France. At present, more than half our average shopping baskets are UPF products. We suggest aiming to reduce that by 10% by 2030.

In terms of the indicators outlined in the plan, we were pleased to see inclusion of uptake of the Food for Life Scotland (FFLS) programme as an indicator for progress on Outcome 1 and Outcome 3. At present, more than half of Scottish local authorities (as well as other public sector bodies) are engaged with FFLS, helping get more local and sustainable food onto plates. Supporting caterers through the Food for Life Served Here award has led to significant increases in the proportion of spend on Quality Meat Scotland farm-assured meat, for example.

We welcomed the inclusion of indicators on reducing GHG emissions and using synthetic fertilisers, and we suggested additional indicators relating to the environmental impact of food production such as reductions in the use of chemical pesticides, which are a key driver of biodiversity loss.

Seeking the views of public sector caterers

Soil Association Scotland also held two workshops with public sector caterers to help inform our response.* One of the key themes raised was around resourcing from central government, and in particular the challenges of sourcing high-quality ingredients such as organic or QMS farm assured red meat. Part of this is due to structural problems within the food system, where the true cost of production (including the environmental impact of industrial systems) is not factored into the price at point of sale. The Scottish Government can’t control the private marketplace, but it can introduce regulatory and policy measures to help level the playing field for those producers who are delivering environmental benefits.

In terms of the resourcing of public kitchens, we made several suggestions including stipulations on ring-fencing of budgets for food procurement, or additional support for sourcing organic or QMS meat. We also suggested that the government uses the plan to require mandatory bronze certification through Food for Life for all councils, sending a clear signal that healthy and sustainable diets for children is a priority, and that government will support Scottish farmers by using public procurement to increase demand for local, sustainable produce.

Finally, we commented on the need for more local and/or regional processing infrastructure in order to enable more localised, sustainable supply chains, in line with government ambitions on Good Food Nation and the Local Food Strategy.

What wasn’t included

The plan doesn’t define what Scottish Government considers to be a healthy and sustainable diet. There is widespread agreement (e.g. UK Climate Change Committee/EAT Lancet/IDDRI/Sustainable Food Trust) for dietary change in order to meet national net zero targets. We think that should mean we eat less and better meat, and more and better vegetables, fruit and pulses. This would mean, for example, prioritising beef and lamb from sustainable systems such as organic over grain-fed poultry and pork. This could be outlined in the plan itself or as an update to the Eatwell dietary guidance.

We also made a point on data, particularly clearer ‘next steps’ on the availability, collection and use of data. This should include a requirement on public bodies to collect origin information so that progress can be made on increasing local sourcing in the public sector.

Finally, the next step in this process is for local councils and health boards to produce Local Good Food Plans. This needs to be supported by central government through more detailed guidance on how best to develop these plans – and how that work will be resourced given the enormous pressure on local government budgets at present.

* We would like to thank the caterers who took the time to join us in the workshops and give us their thoughts.