Becoming a Good Food Nation: an analysis of consultation responses

Full analysis of responses to the consultation on development of a revised national food and drink policy.


3.1 The discussion paper Becoming a Good Food Nation presented a vision for Scotland in 2025 as follows:

By 2025, people from every walk of life, will take pride and pleasure in the food served day by day in Scotland. An increase in Scottish food exports will attract overseas visitors and the quality of the food we serve will become one of the key reasons to travel to Scotland. Everyone will know what constitutes good food and why. All players in Scottish life - from schools to hospitals, retailers, restaurants and food manufacturers - will be committed to serving such food. Its ready availability will have contributed to improvements in children's wellbeing and hence outcomes. Scottish suppliers will have developed their offering so that local increasingly equals fresh, healthy and environmentally sound. The most intractable dietary-related diseases will have begun to decline as will the environmental impact locally and worldwide, of our food consumption. The food industry will be a thriving well-known feature of local and national economies, with each part of Scotland rightly proud of its culinary heritage, past and present.

3.2 Two questions asked about respondents' views on the vision, namely:

Q1: How important do you think it is that we aim to be a Good Food Nation?

Q3: Do you agree with the proposed vision? How would you improve it?

3.3 However, as already noted, respondents' views on the policy aim and the vision set out were offered throughout their responses, and not only in direct response to these two specific questions. The analysis is therefore based on all the material gathered during the consultation process which responds to the vision set out in the discussion document.

3.4 The remainder of this chapter discusses the responses in relation to six main themes: general views on the vision, policy aims, and 'direction of travel'; opportunities in pursuing the vision; challenges to achieving the vision; balance and emphasis; elements missing from the vision; and specific comments on the vision.

General views on the vision, policy aims and 'direction of travel'

3.5 Overall, respondents were generally supportive of, and indeed enthusiastic about, the vision and the general 'direction of travel' articulated in the discussion document. There was widespread agreement that 'becoming a Good Food Nation' was an important topic, which merited significant policy focus and attention. Moreover, there was general agreement that broadening the focus beyond the approach set out in Recipe for Success (which focused more specifically on the economic growth of the food and drink industry) was important and necessary. Respondents recognised and welcomed the potential benefits for the environment, the economy, population health, and social justice and community cohesion more generally, which the successful implementation of such a broadly based policy approach might achieve. There was a real 'appetite' for this agenda, and respondents identified many ways in which they could contribute to its achievement.

3.6 In their comments, respondents often reiterated the arguments which were presented in the discussion document, affirming both the achievements to date under the banner of Recipe for Success and the aspirations for the future as set out in Becoming a Good Food Nation. Moreover, some responses, especially those from partnership bodies and those working on cross-cutting agendas which include (elements of) food and drink policy, emphasised how much is already in progress on a broad basis which will help with the achievement of this vision.

3.7 Alongside this general support, however, respondents expressed a range of caveats and qualifications. In some cases respondents were simply sounding cautionary notes that the vision was ambitious, difficult to achieve, and would require significant effort over a long period of time. However, in other cases the caveats were expressed more forcefully and indicated that some respondents regarded the vision as unrealistic and unachievable. In particular, given the current very high levels of obesity and other diet-related health conditions in Scotland, some respondents questioned whether it would be possible to address this through a policy focused on the broad topic of food and drink. Other caveats are discussed further in paras 3.12 to 3.18 below.

3.8 Furthermore, there was a concern expressed by a small number of respondents that there was a mismatch between the vision and the discussion document itself, with a loss of focus on the food and drink sector and instead a focus on public health policy. It was suggested that the shift of focus risked creating confusion in the food and drink sector, and slowing delivery of the aspiration for a sustainable food and drink industry.

3.9 As indicated in para 3.7 above, respondents from all sectors and interests thought that this was an extremely ambitious agenda, which presented enormous challenges, many of which related to changing deep-seated cultural attitudes and behaviours towards food and diet. It was seen as a very long-term agenda, which would require substantial change in the way food is viewed and in the knowledge, education and skills which people bring to the growing, selling, cooking and consumption of food. The vision was sometimes described as 'idealistic' or 'utopian', and some respondents explicitly said that it was a journey, the destination of which would never be reached. Issues relating to diet, food consumption and obesity were often singled out, with addressing the complex challenge of changing public attitudes towards food being seen as particularly difficult and requiring radical approaches.

Opportunities in pursuing the vision

3.10 The opportunities presented by the discussion document and by the prospect of Scotland becoming a Good Food Nation were welcomed by respondents. It was suggested that the multi-sectoral nature of food and drink, and its all-encompassing reach, meant that there was a great potential opportunity to transform the cultural landscape, to bring people together, to empower communities, to create employment opportunities and a skilled workforce, and to improve the health and wellbeing of the whole population. If it were possible to achieve change in the way food and drink is perceived, produced and consumed, then this could act as a catalyst for positive cultural and social change more generally.

3.11 Organisational respondents across all sectors saw the Good Food Nation initiative as providing a potential springboard for a range of activities and for achieving a range of social policy and commercial policy objectives. In particular, it was thought that the Good Food Nation 'banner' would help raise the profile of food and drink policy in the widest sense, and help increase understanding of the agenda. It would provide a platform for organisations to come together to discuss appropriate actions and collaborate in developing common objectives and delivering shared projects.

Challenges to achieving the vision

3.12 Scotland's poor diet and relationship with food were seen as deep-seated cultural issues which would be difficult to change and which therefore represented a major challenge to achieving the vision. Some highlighted how this situation was further compounded by the pressures of 'modern life'. Respondents referred to long working hours, the busy and irregular lives of families, the lack of a daily routine incorporating eating together, the difficulties of getting to local shops etc., all of which would need to be addressed. Respondents frequently drew comparisons with other European countries (e.g. France, Italy, Germany, Denmark) which were thought to have a better relationship with food, and a more positive 'food culture'.

3.13 A second major challenge to achieving the Good Food Nation vision identified by respondents related to the vast range of sectors, organisations, individuals, policy areas, interests and networks which would have to be involved in order for the vision to be realised. The complexity of the policy landscape was referred to repeatedly, especially in the context of the requirement this complexity created for holistic, whole-systems and integrated policy approaches that cover all aspects of the Good Food Nation landscape.

3.14 More specifically, the wide array of policy interests in this area gives rise to tensions and conflicts which respondents thought should be honestly acknowledged and transparently addressed. This would involve setting priorities, striking a balance between competing interests, and making trade-offs. The tensions which were mentioned most frequently in this regard were:

  • The tension between (reducing) environmental impacts and (increasing) economic growth: It was frequently mentioned that the overarching framework for the vision needed to be couched in terms of 'sustainable economic growth' rather than 'economic growth' per se. Adopting a framework of sustainable economic growth was viewed by many respondents as the way to resolve the conflicts between these competing priorities.
  • The tension between encouraging and supporting local food initiatives / local food growing on the one hand and developing exports and export markets on the other: Whilst on balance, respondents from business, commercial and enterprise sectors focused on the importance of exports, those from other backgrounds were more likely to express the view that developing exports was of lesser importance / value than supporting local food projects and initiatives. This prioritising of local approaches was often linked to issues such as food security and the aim of Scotland becoming more self-sufficient in food production and consumption; food miles; food culture; and the importance of growing the local food economy.

3.15 Given the complex nature of stakeholder interests, respondents also raised some questions about the vision and its meaning, namely 'What is a Good Food Nation?' 'How can we define good food?' 'What is local food?' and 'What is environmentally sustainable food production?' It was thought that these were not easy terms to define but that, without definitions, it would not be possible to measure the progress of the strategy in a meaningful way.

3.16 One suggestion for the definition of a 'Good Food Nation' offered by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which also contains within it a suggestion for a definition of 'good food', was:

A nation in which food of high quality in terms of taste, safety and especially nutritional value (leading to optimal health, including appropriate body weight) is consumed across all sections of society, the food being produced and sourced locally (wherever practical) with the minimum possible environmental impact, while enhancing regional economic structures.

3.17 It was thought that achieving the vision would require the commitment of substantial financial resources particularly in relation to investment in local initiatives (e.g. extending access to and supply of allotments). This was acknowledged to be difficult given current financial constraints.

3.18 Finally, respondents from all sectors emphasised that the vision on its own was insufficient. The vision needed to be properly underpinned by a comprehensive plan which identified aims and specific objectives, and set out clear targets, indicators, and short, medium and long-term outcomes with associated timetables and lead responsibilities. These aspects are discussed further in Chapters 4, 5 and 6.

Balance and emphasis

3.19 There was a range of issues and topics which respondents thought should receive more attention in the overall vision. The topics highlighted often (but not always) reflected the aims of the organisation from which they were submitted, or the personal agendas of the individuals. For example:

  • Food producers and food manufacturers wanted to see more emphasis on the food production and manufacturing, including more on the links between farming and food, better incentives and higher returns for primary producers, and the need for farming to be fully valued.
  • Public health organisations wanted a greater emphasis on diet, alcohol, obesity, health, health inequalities and the wider social determinants of health.
  • Third sector and community groups involved in food growing wanted more emphasis on access to allotments and opportunities for individuals and community groups to grow their own food.
  • The business and enterprise sector wanted more emphasis on encouraging small businesses and expanding the opportunities for product placement and exporting.
  • Environmental organisations wanted to see more focus on protecting wildlife and habitats, and reducing the environmental impacts of food production (including carbon emissions, soil degradation, biodiversity etc.).
  • Vegetarians, vegans, and those concerned with alternative diets called for more emphasis on increasing fruit and vegetable production and consumption, decreasing meat production and consumption, and ensuring that such diets were properly recognised in the retail and hospitality sectors.
  • Respondents including individuals with young children wanted more emphasis on food education and healthy eating options at school.
  • Consumer groups wanted more focus on consumer interests including health warnings and improvements to labelling of 'unhealthy foods'.

3.20 In addition, some cross-cutting issues were highlighted, not only by sectoral interest groups but on a wider basis. So, for example, improved health of the population, environmentally sound production methods, encouragement and support for local food economies, empowering communities, reducing food waste and food surplus, improving education knowledge and skills for all including cooking from scratch, changing attitudes, and improving food security were mentioned by all groups. These are discussed further in Chapter 4.

3.21 The range of issues mentioned illustrates the point made above about the wide range of potentially conflicting stakeholder interests in this area.

Elements missing from the vision

3.22 There was substantial comment that, ambitious as the vision was, it did not encompass the issue of food poverty and the importance of ensuring that good quality food is accessible and affordable for all people. It was argued strongly that any vision for a Good Food Nation would have to address the issue of food poverty directly, and this was seen as a major omission from the discussion paper.

3.23 Respondents felt that it was very important to include mention of access to food, food poverty, affordability, and the widespread use of food banks in any policy aimed at transforming Scotland into a Good Food Nation. This was the central point made in responses from organisations focusing on poverty and social justice issues, but was also raised widely by public sector and third sector organisations, as well as by many individual respondents. An aspiration that Scotland should be a place where 'no-one goes hungry' was identified; it was thought that a statement to this effect should be included in the vision.

3.24 Other issues which were mentioned by a range of respondents as not having been included but meriting explicit reference in any vision statement included:

  • agriculture, farming and primary food production in general
  • a discussion of alternative farming methods (e.g., organic farming, permaculture and the use of GM crops)
  • (an increase in opportunities for) crofting
  • appropriate land use (especially in relation to farming and planning for small- scale food production)
  • the contribution Becoming a Good Food Nation would make to the low-carbon ambition for Scotland
  • reducing inequality (not just in relation to health)
  • older people (as well as children and young people)
  • (a recognition that Scotland has a status as a) Fair Trade nation
  • physical activity
  • reducing alcohol consumption in Scotland
  • animal welfare
  • giving more priority to innovation (and research and development)

Specific comments on the vision

3.25 There was a range of specific comments offered on the vision, but no consistent themes about how the stated vision statement (as reproduced at the beginning of this chapter) could be improved. Indeed, in discussing the vision, it was rare for respondents to actually focus on the specific statement. The following quotes illustrate the range of more specific comments offered:

  • 'The vision puts too much emphasis on "served food". More emphasis should be placed on encouraging growers to grow and produce at a more local level.' (Forth Environment Link - Grow Forth Link)
  • 'There needs to be more clarity about what is good food.' (The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health)
  • 'It will take longer than till 2025 for everybody to change food buying and consumption patterns.' (Individual)
  • 'You cannot have an idealistic "vision" in this document for 2025 of "people from every walk of life" taking pride and pleasure in the food served day by day in Scotland, separated entirely from the current reality of a 400% increase in the use of food banks.' (Unison Scotland)

3.26 Four organisations [9] suggested that the sentence 'All players in Scottish life - from schools to hospitals, retailers, restaurants and food manufacturers - will be committed to serving such food' offered in the current version should be substituted by the following sentence:

All players in Scottish life - from our food producers, suppliers and manufacturers to places that serve food including our nurseries, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, care homes, large and small retailers, caf├ęs, restaurants, staff canteens and all other food providers in Scotland - will commit to procuring and providing sustainable, healthy and local food and be supported to do so through clear, effective national and local policies and related activities.

3.27 These four organisations thought that this re-formulation was more inclusive and more in the spirit of the vision which has been set out in Becoming a Good Food Nation.



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