Shetland Times Column 25th March 2022

This week the Good Food Nation (GFN) Bill completed stage 1 in the Parliament. As Deputy Convener I had to step in to convey the Committee’s stance on the bill after the Convener became unwell.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have supported the creation of a GFN Bill for some time. Scotland has an opportunity to reform our food system to lead the way in sustainable food, food security and local food production and make a difference to public health.

The bill in its current form is lacking ambition and I would like to see it underpinned with a ‘right to food’. This is the right of everyone at all times to physical and economic access to food, which is sufficient, adequate, culturally acceptable and produced sustainably. I also believe that a newly created independent Food Commission would help to deliver this.

The bill refers to ‘relevant authorities’ including health boards and local authorities but there is no mention of the social care sector which could ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are encompassed.

I recently met with school hostel residents and we discussed the meals that they have each day in their ‘home from home’ and the policy that dictates them. Other young people have told me about their school dinners which meets government nutritional standards but isn’t always appetising to the end consumer.

Healthy and nutritional meals for young people are good but not if it drives them away from the hostel or school canteen to buy food elsewhere.  We’ve all seen young folk pour out of Anderson High School at lunchtimes, darting across roads to supermarkets.

This is not to blame school catering which is following Scottish Government regulations intended to help our young people eat more healthily. But when government guidance leads to a quick trip to a takeaway or supermarket every day then it’s clear something isn’t working as envisioned. It is clear that prescriptive targets can be too narrow and have unintended consequences. We should not make the same mistake in the GFN bill, micromanaging every pea on a plate.

Professor Mary Brennan of the Scottish Food Coalition visited Shetland businesses and stakeholders, including the Lerwick Fish Market and Shetland Dairies, and heard about the challenges and opportunities of sustainable food production and food waste. All this at a time when the cost of living and food poverty is rising sharply, and there are serious concerns about food security.

Ukraine remains at the forefront of the news and how Scotland can play its part in welcoming refugees is an ongoing national conversation. People are asking what they can do, desperate to offer compassion, shelter and support.  Shetland, as ever, is playing its part with offers of accommodation, and different fundraisers to aid the crisis. One appeal is through the Shetland Solidarity with Refugees pop-up shop in the Toll Clock Centre. Alistair Carmichael and I called in last Friday and volunteers reported a steady stream of people supporting their efforts. It’s open today and tomorrow.

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