The new Good Food Nation Bill gives the Scottish Government an opportunity to support farmers in many different ways as the farm payment system changes, says John Finnie, Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands.
Just before Christmas, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on the Good Food Nation Bill, a piece of legislation which will require the Government to have an integrated food policy, and which could enshrine the right to food in Scots law.
The Bill has been widely championed by third sector and community organisations, but until now there has been little engagement with the farming community.
A new Food Bill, however, could be just the thing the industry needs following the turmoil and uncertainty of Brexit.
As we begin to consider what could replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a joined-up approach to how we support our industry and ensure there is a plentiful supply of healthy, affordable food in Scotland is sorely needed.
The Greens want to see more detail in the Good Food Nation Bill, which will ensure a common approach to all the areas of policy which food touches upon – health, environment, education, communities, industry, retail, hospitality and farming.
Too often at present, policy and political decisions are made in the abstract. The recent obesity strategy, for example, recognised the need to change Scotland’s diet, but it made no consideration of how we can increase the supply of affordable, good quality Scottish fruit and vegetables.
The weaknesses and challenges in our food system are going to be even more stark if or when we leave the EU, so the Good Food Nation Bill needs to address these head-on.
For example, it could include measures for increasing local produce in public procurement.
Huge amounts of public money goes into purchasing food for our schools and hospitals, but at present too little of it goes to Scottish farmers.
Having a presumption of local supply and breaking down contracts into more manageable blocks could allow farmers and co-operatives to win more of these contracts.
It could also help the public sector address potential price fluctuations and supply chain difficulties if we are forced out of the EU.
Adopting a ‘right to food’ would also be a major game-changer in how Government deals with farmers and food producers.
It could see significantly more funding and support being delivered to the farming sector, to ensure public access and affordability of fresh produce is improved, and changes to rebalance power in the supply chain away from retailers and back to producers and consumers.
I hope farmers will engage with the Good Food Nation consultation and have their say.
The sector is understandably concerned about the future of farm payments and direct support, but there are so many other ways Government and society could be supporting the industry.
Let the Scottish Government know what a joined-up food policy would mean for your farm and your local community.
To respond to the consultation, click HERE.
John can be found tweeting at @JohnFinnieHI