4 SETTING PRIORITIES
4.1 This chapter examines the priorities which respondents identified in relation to becoming a Good Food Nation. The discussion document explained that, whilst it would be for the planned Food Commission (see Chapter 6) to recommend priorities, the Scottish Government intends to propose early action in relation to five areas namely: food in the public sector; a children's food policy; local food; good food choices; and continued economic growth.
4.2 The discussion document sought views from respondents on Good Food Nation priorities as follows:
Q9: Do you agree with the proposed initial focus on:
- Food in the public sector
- A children's food policy
- Local food
- Good food choices and
- Continued economic growth?
Q10: Which other areas would you prioritise?
4.3 A small number of respondents offered comments on the overall thrust of the five priority areas. These respondents divided into two main groupings: those who thought the identified areas seemed a sensible and helpful place to begin, and those who felt that the areas were not appropriate because they lacked a focus in an area of particular importance to the respondent, usually food poverty or overall environmental sustainability.
4.4 At the more detailed level, in commenting on the individual priorities, responses focused both on the broad policy areas which were identified, and also contained a wide variety of specific ideas for elements which would require consideration or development. The priorities for 'food in the public sector' and 'local food' were affirmed on a very broad basis, whilst the responses for the other priorities were more mixed. The dimensions raised in relation to each of the five priority areas identified in Question 9 are discussed in turn below.
Food in the public sector
4.5 There was a fairly broad consensus that 'food in the public sector' was an appropriate priority for early work. Respondents emphasised the importance of the public sector showing leadership, given its important role in shaping attitudes and modelling desirable approaches. The standards and quality of the food offered in schools, hospitals and the care sector was thought to be particularly important. These views were expressed by individuals and by organisations from across all sectors.
4.6 The importance of improving public sector procurement practice, and in particular the need to create an environment in which SMEs could compete alongside larger suppliers for significant public sector contracts, was highlighted. A few organisations specifically discussed the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. Although this legislation was in general welcomed, local authority respondents expressed a degree of uncertainty about whether the Act would deliver the means to achieve its intended outcome of sustainable purchasing.
4.7 However, alongside this broad consensus, there were some more cautionary notes sounded. There was, it was argued, a requirement to be realistic about what could be achieved within the public sector, especially given the influence of the large private sector suppliers - who provide much of the food in the public sector - and the current climate of austerity; there were issues of definitions and trade-offs in defining best value and how this would balance cost, quality, health and sustainability; and there was a recognition that making progress would require existing interests to be challenged.
4.8 Many specific points were made about what this leadership role for the public sector should encompass. Those most commonly mentioned included:
- the need to consider a policy for the public sector which incorporates the use of public land (including NHS land) for growing food
- the need to recognise that food in the public sector is often provided by the private sector so that any public sector policy would necessarily impact on the private sector too
- the importance of thinking creatively and innovatively - for example, having a dietician work with community groups
- ensuring that what is done in the public sector will result in sustainable food production
- removing all processed foods from the public sector
- preventing hospitals and schools from using cook-chill methods
- installing full kitchen facilities in all public buildings involved in food production, staffed by a suitably trained and motivated workforce
- reducing the number of fast food outlets - in particular near schools - and using planning legislation and regulatory powers to achieve this
4.9 Respondents described exemplar projects already in existence which could be used as models for development elsewhere (e.g. the 'community gardening project with the NHS' run by Edinburgh Cyrenians, 'The Concrete Garden' in Glasgow which works with local GP surgeries and hospitals to involve patients in food growing).
A children's food policy
4.10 Respondents from all sectors and from all groups affirmed the importance of ensuring children of all ages (babies through to teenagers) had good diets. In particular, they saw it as vital that children were educated about food (at home and in formal educational settings), had a good understanding about where food came from, and were offered good food at home, school and elsewhere. It was thought that these elements were key in achieving long-term change in culture, attitudes and behaviour. Indeed, many respondents highlighted the importance of incorporating food into the school curriculum at all stages in a range of different ways, with some suggesting this should be a compulsory component of the curriculum (as was the case with physical education).
4.11 However, views on the appropriateness of a specific food policy focusing on children were mixed. Whilst some respondents took a positive view about the introduction of such a food policy, others thought this would not be the best way to deliver good outcomes (for children). On balance, respondents who commented on this priority were not in favour of a food policy aimed specifically at children.
4.12 The main reasons that respondents gave for believing that a children's food policy was not the best route to pursue are noted below. The reasons are closely related to each other, but were brought forward with slightly different emphases:
- A policy for children's food should not be considered in isolation from other broader issues which affect children's lives.
- It is not possible to separate out the needs of children in relation to food from the needs of young people, (young) mothers, parents, families, adults or communities.
- Children are not in a position to make many food choices by themselves; most often these choices are made on behalf of children by others. It is therefore not appropriate to focus on children only; rather the focus should be on those responsible for providing food for children.
- Any food policy should cover all people; perhaps with separate targets by age group; older people were often highlighted by respondents.
- Everyone needs to be educated about food and to develop skills in relation to food - not just children.
- There are already a range of initiatives being pursued in this area; another policy is unnecessary.
4.13 Overall, then, there was a preference for a policy approach which included everyone, and did not attempt to isolate children as a target for policy action. The small number of respondents who said they were in favour of a food policy for children raised some specific issues that such a policy should address. Most often these related to ensuring that education and skills training relating to food was provided at schools. In addition, it was suggested that advertising aimed at children should be banned.
4.14 The large majority of respondents who offered comments in relation to 'local food' were generally in favour of this as a priority area for early action. Respondents who favoured this kind of approach and respondents who were against it framed their responses in terms of the importance of ensuring that this should be within an overall framework of sustainability which recognised that local food was not always the most sustainable option.
4.15 Moreover, both groups of respondents (those in favour of 'local food' as a priority for early action and those against) raised the issue of the definition of 'local food'. What, specifically is meant by 'local food'? This is relevant, not least because there was doubt about whether the food that supermarkets badge as 'local produce' is actually produced locally.
4.16 Those who were supportive of this being a priority area for early action emphasised the importance of a focus within the policy on small-scale local growing, underpinned by appropriate land use strategies which supported small-scale enterprises. The need for adequate funding and capacity building was also noted. Other points made in support of local food as a priority included the following:
- It would require a full range of services and skills to be in place locally (e.g., a local abattoir was specifically noted) to ensure that food produced in an area could be made ready for sale without leaving the area.
- Investing in existing projects - rather than starting new ones - was the best approach.
- It did not mean that global supply chains would have to be eschewed.
- This would be a way to deal with the issue of imported food competing with high quality local produce, with the sale of New Zealand lamb being offered as an example.
4.17 The arguments which were made against this as a priority area for early action included that:
- this is a niche area, which is unlikely to achieve huge changes
- this is only useful when it connects producers with consumers
- a lot of good food is not local
- many local companies export good food
- local food is not always affordable
- local food is not inherently 'good food'
Good food choices
4.18 The comments offered in relation to this priority area revealed that respondents had interpreted what action in this area might look like in highly divergent ways. There was no clear pattern to the responses and no shared view of what a policy relating to 'good food choices' might cover. Respondents focused on issues relating to the following:
- information, education, and the development of skills
- knowledge and evidence relating to behaviour and the drivers of behaviour change
- issues relating to poverty, affordability, and the wider social determinants of food choices (including empowerment)
- taking steps to ensure that healthy choices become easier to make
- how food choices could be affected by (changes in) regulation
4.19 As far as information, education and the development of skills was concerned, there was support for improving people's understanding of food through an appropriate mix of public information and health education campaigns, and of building skills and capacity in relation to food preparation and cooking. However there was also comment to the effect that whilst informed choice is important, information and education were not enough on their own; empowerment was required. One route to empowerment identified was extending access to facilities for growing food more widely.
4.20 Respondents echoed the views expressed in the discussion document that behaviour change is difficult, will take a long time, and needs to start with a review of the evidence on how this can be achieved. The aim was to make 'good food' the easy option.
4.21 It was thought that any consideration of food choices needed to take into account issues relating to inequality, affordability and poverty. These were seen to be significant barriers in relation to food choices.
4.22 Respondents believed that at present, healthy choices were not always available and / or easy to make, especially for those who were not well off. Respondents favoured greater use of the Supporting Healthy Choices framework  and greater encouragement of healthy dietary patterns which did not focus on single nutrients but on a broader concept of a healthy diet. It was thought that it was the government's role to make it easier to access healthy food, and that this might require legislation against 'bad food' containing excessive amounts of sugar and fats.
4.23 As far as regulation was concerned, there was comment that the amount of choice which was available was substantial; that it was difficult to remove (by regulation or other legislative change) 'bad' food choices; that food labelling needed to be improved; and that legislation was required to change the displays in food outlets.
Continued economic growth
4.24 Amongst those who commented about continued economic growth as a priority, on balance, opinion was against this being an initial focus for early action. Overwhelmingly, this was because respondents thought the framework should be sustainable economic growth, which they supported. However, respondents did not interpret the discussion document as referring to sustainable economic growth. Thus respondents across public, partnership and third sector groups commented that economic growth should not be at the expense of other more long-term ambitions in relation to environmental and economic sustainability and resilience, economic stability (especially in relation to the food economy and in particular local food economies) and sustainable development.
4.25 Respondents also focused in their responses on the tensions between economic growth and other conflicting priorities, highlighting the following points:
- Any growth should be predicated on the growth in the production, sale and consumption of healthy foods only.
- A focus on developing local food options might not contribute to economic growth.
- Developing fair pricing mechanisms throughout the supply chain may not align with economic growth.
- There may be a tension between economic growth and the aim of shortening supply chains.
4.26 Some respondents, and particularly those in the private sector, took a more positive view of the importance of focusing on economic growth. They reflected on success to date and saw potential for future growth in home and export markets. Further, it was argued that innovation was vital (and was largely missing from the discussion document) and that it was possible to achieve sustainable economic growth through innovation.
4.27 When asked what other priorities they had, beyond the five set out in the discussion document, respondents offered a very wide range of answers. These related to individuals' own personal interests, or to the interests and aims of the organisational respondents. The most commonly mentioned priorities, which were raised by respondents across all sectors and all topic areas were:
- Sustainability and reducing environmental impacts: This covered sustainability of the food production process, approaches which used sustainable development principles, the reduction of Scotland's carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water and soil quality, minimising habitat loss, reducing food miles etc. This was seen as a priority that should underlie the vision as a whole, rather than as a specific priority for early action.
- Improving health: This covered many aspects of health improvement including improving diet, nutrition and wellbeing, reducing health inequalities and obesity, improving understanding of what 'good food' is, and making healthier choices the 'norm'.
- Reducing (or eliminating) food poverty: This topic concerned making sure that good food was available to everyone at an affordable price, with some advocating tackling structural issues like poverty and inequality. There was also discussion of eradicating food hunger, reducing food waste, and improving food recycling.
- Improving education and skills in relation to food and nutrition: These comments were sometimes directed at a specific target group (e.g. children, families) but more often were raised in a more generic context. There was a focus on improving education and knowledge in relation to the provenance of food, as well as a focus on improving food growing, preparation and cooking skills.
- Empowering communities: This priority was identified as requiring investment in communities to allow infrastructure (such as access to growing spaces, the development of retail and other networks, and the provision of community kitchens) to be built which could enable communities to become more resilient and empowered. This was seen as additional to the 'local food' priority as set out in the discussion document. This would require land to be used appropriately and investment in local networks which could provide advice and support.
- Legislation and regulation: This was identified as a priority particularly in relation to curbing the power of large retailers who were thought to sometimes act against the best interests of consumers (for example by producing foods with high fat and sugar content), and controlling more local issues around, for example, fast food outlets near schools.
- Increasing employment and education opportunities: This priority was raised by individuals and organisations from all sectors. It was thought that a Good Food Nation offered the possibility for developing new and enhanced employment opportunities and for extending and improving education in relation to diet and nutrition, including the development of practical skills.
4.28 Other priorities which were identified (albeit by fewer respondents than those listed above) included: developing the research and evidence base; supporting small and medium enterprises; ensuring all food was of a high quality; increasing the understanding of the link between farming and food; changing attitudes and culture; increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed; regenerating local high streets; enhancing food and safety standards; promotion of particular types of farming (e.g., increasing organic production, reducing livestock rearing); ensuring that GM crops were not supported; building on local food traditions; increasing the uptake of specific food groups (e.g., fruit and vegetables, dairy produce, meat); and increasing breastfeeding rates.
Telephone: 0300 244 9802
Food, Drink and Rural Communities