October 3, 2018
The power of lobbying
The process that determines what goes into the Programme for Government seems somewhat opaque – at least from the outside looking in. A strange alchemy of lobbyists, civil servants and of course, the wisdom of our elected representatives, combine to produce the work plan for the coming year. But nothing is fixed in stone. Scottish Food Coalition have been working hard to challenge the way this country thinks about food and had assumed a Good Food Nation Bill would appear in the most recent Programme. It wasn’t. Cue intensive lobbying followed by Government U-turn. An interesting insight.
Ministers have vowed to introduce ambitious legislation over the coming months to transform Scotland’s relationship with food following parliamentary pressure.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has promised to consult to wide-ranging plans aimed at protecting and expanding the food and drink sector and to implement measures to address poor diet, obesity and food poverty.
He is also to consider including enshrining a Right to Food in the legislation, which if passed would make Scotland the first country in Europe to do so.
Ewing announced his plan in Holyrood during a debate to celebrate the country’s food and drink industry. It followed criticisms that a Good Food Nation Bill did not feature as expected in the First Minister’s programme for government.
“Let me seek to be helpful by re-emphasising the Scottish Government’s commitment to providing legislation to underpin Scotland’s status as a good food nation. I am pleased to reaffirm today our clear commitment to introduce legislation in the current session of Parliament,” Ewing told MSPs on Thursday.
The legislation is seen as particularly pressing in light of Brexit and fears leaving the EU will present major threats to the industry as well as increasing food costs to consumers.
The Food Foundation think tank has estimated around 220,000 children in Scotland are living in households which are unlikely to be able to afford a healthy diet as defined by a UK Government eating guide. It found families earning less than £11,700 need to spend 68% of their income after housing costs to follow the Eatwell Guide.
Ewing agreed to consult with Labour and Greens to put the “right to food” at the heart of the bill and include targets on health and wellbeing. The bill is supported by the Scottish Food Coalition which includes Unite, Unison, Oxfam, Obesity Action Scotland and the Trussell Trust.
Pete Ritchie of Nourish Scotland, a member of the coalition, welcomed the news, saying: “This bill can fundamentally change Scotland’s uneasy relationship with food. We don’t eat well, we export food all over the world yet we have kids going hungry.”
The Green’s Mark Ruskell said: “This U-turn by the government to finally introduce a Good Food Nation Bill shows the power of parliament speaking up with one voice this week. Much of the groundwork to introduce a bill and a Right to Food has been done, what was lacking was the political will to deliver. We’ll look forward to making this bill as ambitious as it can be, delivering a joined up plan to tackle the problems of poor diet and lack of access to quality food.”
Labour’s Colin Smyth said: “The SNP dropped the Good Food Nation Bill… and have now been forced to bring it back thanks to a Labour amendment and Holyrood vote on Thursday.”
Scotland’s food and drink sector is worth around £14 billion a year to the economy, with exports totalling a record £6bn last year.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We remain committed to introducing legislation to underpin the significant work being done to meet our Good Food Nation vision and welcome the support of Parliament in this regard.”