Sarah Boyack MSP supports the Right to Food in Scots Law

“the right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement. The right to adequate food shall therefore not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with a minimum package of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients. The right to adequate food will have to be realized progressively.”

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

In Scotland, in 2019, this right goes unrealised for too many people living here. This may be hard to swallow given the highly marketed image of Scotland as a land of quality food and drink, with smoked salmon, peaty whisky and buttery shortbread. This is bolstered by selling the romantic image of Scotland as a land of crystal lochs and misty moors, rolling fields and hulking mountains – untouched and unspoiled. Scotland’s produce is the envy of the world – but is this reality for Scots?

The Scottish Health Survey 2018, published earlier this month, reported that 1 in 10 children in Scotland, aged 2- 15, consumed no fruit or vegetables in a typical day. The same survey revealed that 1 in 4 single parents worried about running out of food. In Scotland, food production is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, accounting for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions – second only to transport. With the exception of smoking, Scottish diets are the biggest driver of ill-health.

In 2018 USDAW, the fifth largest trade union in the UK, released findings that revealed the stark reality of in-work poverty. Half of the 10,500 people surveyed said they missed meals to pay essential bills and well over a third missed meals on a regular basis. Almost 1 in 10 survey respondents reported using food banks to feed themselves and their families. This is a far cry from the heather and the haggis we trumpet on the global stage.

The right to food is fully spelt out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which the UK ratified over forty years ago – but it’s not been brought into UK law, and so it has no teeth.

Scotland has devolved powers on human rights through the Scotland Act 1998. The Scottish Food Coalition, an alliance of over 30 civil society organisations, believes that the Scottish Government should use its devolved powers to incorporate the right to food into the impending legislation to change Scotland’s food system – the Good Food Nation Bill.

Putting the right to food into law will not end food banks overnight, but it will set Scotland on a path of joined-up, coherent policy to make sure that everyone has reliable access to healthy, sustainable food for themselves and their families- food that has been produced with care for the environment and respect for the producers.

In implementing the right to food, the Government accepts an explicit duty to ensure that the food system delivers on social and environmental outcomes, as well as economic goals. We must ensure that the perception of Scotland as a land of quality food and drink actually reflects the reality for people in Scotland.

Support from Co-operative and Labour MSPs has been invaluable in this campaign. Their advocacy of the right to food has kept it in the legislative spotlight; the parties have persevered to ensure the Good Food Nation Bill did not fall off the agenda. We’re delighted to see the reaffirmation of this support with the Co-operative Party’s call for a right to food as part of the Food Justice campaign and support from Labour for a right to food in a new Fair Food Act.

Spurred on by this endorsement, the Scottish Food Coalition will be ever more energised in our advocacy for a Good Food Nation Bill that puts the human rights at the centre of policy making, the right to food into Scots law and people living in Scotland at the heart of the Scottish food system – where they should be.