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.


6.1 This chapter presents respondents' views on issues relating to the implementation and delivery of the Good Food Nation vision. The chapter focuses on structural, organisational and operational issues, and includes views on the proposed Food Commission. Key questions for the analysis were as follows:

Q5: Are there any other essential steps we need to take before setting out on this journey?

Q6: How do you think a Food Commission could best help?

Q8: What are your views on the different approaches that could be taken to help us become a Good Food Nation?

6.2 There was a lot of commonality in the themes discussed in response to these three questions. Thus, the reporting looks across the questions in covering the following: essential preliminary steps; approaches to becoming a Good Food Nation; and the Food Commission. Many respondents also took the opportunity to discuss what they thought needed to be done in terms of substantive and specific policy activity to become a Good Food Nation. This material is largely covered in Chapter 4 of the report.

Essential preliminary steps

6.3 The consultation document outlined essential requirements and preparations for the Good Food Nation 'journey' which included the following: the need to get everyone involved; the need for coordination and alignment between the activities of different bodies with an interest in food; the need for world class food safety and standards; and the agreement of high level indicators to assess progress. This chapter discusses the first three of these 'essential steps', while agreement of high level indicators is covered in Chapter 5 within the context of defining and measuring success.

6.4 The document also highlighted the creation of the Food Commission as part of the discussion relating to essential steps. Respondents provided a significant amount of comment on the Food Commission. In many respects this reinforced the more general remarks about ways of working and different approaches to becoming a Good Food Nation and, as such, is reflected in the first sections of this chapter. However, the final section of the chapter picks up on specific points relevant to the operation of the Food Commission.

6.5 Across all respondent types there was broad support for the essential steps outlined in the discussion document. Alongside this general support, however, a small number of respondents argued for immediate action to be prioritised, with some making the point that the Good Food Nation journey had already begun; this point was made with reference to the previous Recipe for Success policy work or with reference to ongoing grass-roots activity at local level.

6.6 Although the question posed in the discussion document invited views on other steps, most respondents offered comments which linked to or expanded on the preliminary steps as proposed. Comments are thus presented under the headings of the proposed steps as noted below.

Getting everyone involved

6.7 There was a general consensus that involving the right people and organisations would be essential to becoming a Good Food Nation. While those involved in food production, retailing and the hospitality sectors were more likely to emphasise the need for proper representation from different sectors and levels of seniority within the food and drink industry, other respondents adopted a wider interpretation and argued for the involvement of third sector organisations, community groups, and individuals with different perspectives and backgrounds. There was a clear appetite for making sure involvement went beyond the 'usual suspects'. Others called for the involvement of appropriate professionals and experts; this was highlighted in relation to the Commission's role in advising on grants and research.

6.8 Involvement could take a variety of forms including: Commission membership, having the opportunity to make submissions to the Commission, taking part in public and stakeholder consultation, getting involved in local projects, enthusing people about good food. Respondents emphasised, however, that wide community involvement would require appropriate funding and support for capacity building.

Coordination and alignment across policy areas and organisations

6.9 Respondents of all types stressed the need for the government to take a coordinated and joined-up cross-cutting approach to food policy, and to involve appropriate organisations in doing this. Early work was thus required to review and establish policy and organisational linkages, and ensure alignment of objectives and partnership approaches. Respondents highlighted a wide range of specific policy areas which needed to be taken account of, or which could make a contribution to, becoming a Good Food Nation

6.10 A number of respondents commented on the need to review the current organisational landscape across the food and drink sector. Most commonly respondents suggested a rationalisation of current organisations with a remit in this area, with some also expressing concern about how the proposed Food Commission would fit into the existing landscape (see para 6.17). There were, however, also suggestions for new bodies such as food policy 'councils' and a research centre to support the development of the Good Food Nation vision.

6.11 Getting buy-in from all relevant organisations and sectors was also seen as vital to success. The importance of buy-in from supermarkets and other big players in the food and drink industry, from the farming community, and from a wide range of public sector staff with roles in procurement and catering was particularly noted. There were, however, some tensions in the approaches favoured by respondents: while many stressed the need to achieve buy-in and support from 'big business' and to work constructively with them, other groups favoured a more combative approach, advocating that the power of the supermarkets and the big food producers should be challenged.

Food safety and standards

6.12 There was limited comment on the need to address food safety and standards as part of the preparatory stage. However, those who commented agreed that this was very important to becoming a Good Food Nation; the one concern raised was in relation to standardisation and the possible adverse impact on diversity in the food sector.

Approaches to becoming a Good Food Nation

6.13 The discussion paper emphasised the need to adopt a range of approaches to becoming a Good Food Nation, and highlighted two approaches in particular: putting as much energy into celebrating food as into education; and seeking to counter the perception that caring about food was only for those who could afford to do so. Views were invited on the different approaches that might be adopted.

6.14 Respondents were clear that a wide-ranging strategy with a multitude of objectives would need a multi-stranded approach to achieve success. Several respondents noted that the type of long-term behavioural and cultural change sought needed to recognise that individuals, organisations and communities were at very different starting points and had very different perspectives, and that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach was not appropriate. There was, however, some criticism that the document did not provide more information on the possible different approaches. Key themes in the comments on proposed approaches - many of which are overlapping - are noted below.

  • An evidence-led approach: There was clear support for a robust evidence-based approach to achieving the Good Food Nation vision. This involved, variously: taking stock of the current situation through reviewing existing evidence and, where necessary, gathering new evidence in order to understand current attitudes, behaviours, impacts and outcomes for individuals, communities and organisations, society and the environment; learning from past experience and experience elsewhere about 'what works'; and identifying and sharing knowledge, expertise and good practice within and across sectors. A small number of organisations and individuals provided detailed evidence on topics such as nutrition, diet, the benefits of organic farming, affordability, health etc. as part of their response.
  • A joined-up approach: This tied in very much with comment elsewhere in the consultation, with respondents from all sectors emphasising the need for an integrated approach which took full account of the range of policy areas, and linked with other agendas, strategies and initiatives such as those on community empowerment and land reform. Respondents discussed the need to take a wide approach, while also recognising and addressing the tensions which would be inherent in such an approach.
  • Bottom-up and top-down: There was a strong view that becoming a Good Food Nation would require a bottom-up as well as a top-down approach. For many this meant building on existing activities, networks and initiatives, and providing support and funding to develop additional initiatives; for others this meant ensuring that a wide range of voices were heard, and offering participative decision-making processes with appropriate resourcing; and for others this was about informing, educating and empowering people to make good choices and bring about change via consumer demand.
  • Using the full range of policy levers: There were calls for strong political leadership from the government (both domestically and internationally), and appropriate use of all available mechanisms and levers in order to achieve success. These included: voluntary guidance and codes of practice; use of subsidies and taxes to incentivise behaviours (e.g., taxing unhealthy food; subsidising healthy food); use of the planning process to restrict the location of fast food outlets and ensure availability of land for food production; the use of public sector procurement to support local supply chains; restrictions on advertising unhealthy food (particularly when aimed at children); the use of legislation / regulation to improve food quality in the retail and catering sectors, control the disposal of food waste, and restrict the sale of fast food and fizzy drinks; exploration of how EU funding mechanisms including CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) funding might support the Good Food Nation.
  • A global approach: Respondents emphasised the need for any work to be seen within a wider international context which took account of international trade, cultural influences (both positive and negative), and Scotland's role in the global community, in a formal and informal sense. This context was seen to bring obligations and responsibilities, while also presenting opportunities and challenges. Respondents argued that there needed to be recognition of the complexity that this introduced, and of the requirement for government action to promote Scotland's interests where necessary. More specifically, respondents referred to the impact and potential benefits of EU regulations and initiatives, and taking advantage of EU funding programmes ( CAP, SRDP etc.); aligning work in Scotland with ongoing work elsewhere (e.g., UN work on climate change and food security); and learning from international evidence and best practice including, for example, the statutory ban on transfats (as introduced in Europe a decade ago). Other respondents referred to Fair Trade principles and appreciating the impact of actions taken in Scotland on the international community.
  • A realistic approach: Some respondents highlighted the need to be realistic about the starting point, the impact of a range of factors (e.g., lifestyles) and the challenges faced in reconciling different positions and arriving at the scale of change required. As such, realistic targets and long-term timescales would be needed to achieve the Good Food Nation vision.
  • Identifying and tackling barriers: Some advocated a 'solution-based approach' focusing on identifying and tackling barriers to becoming a Good Food Nation. This might involve, for example, addressing deficiencies in cooking skills; subsidising the sale of healthy food; addressing training and workforce issues; pump-priming innovative local projects.
  • Targeted approach versus an inclusive approach: While some respondents favoured a broad-brush, inclusive society-wide approach, others wished to see the targeting of particular groups. Typically, the groups to be targeted included those experiencing food poverty and health inequalities, disadvantaged groups, children, and older people.
  • A bold approach: Social justice and food groups in particular wished to see what could be described as a 'bold' approach involving, for example, tackling structural issues such as poverty, tackling the power of the supermarkets and big business, taking a rights-based approach, and advocating the need for a fundamentally different socio-economic model. Specific suggestions here included adopting a 'zero growth' model, developing local currencies to support local food economies and reinvesting profits from the food and drink industry into community based initiatives.
  • Preventative spend approach: Some respondents, particularly those in the public sector, made reference to a 'preventative spend' approach as advocated by the Christie Commission, and encouraged the government and other bodies to recognise the benefits that might be reaped from investing in Good Food Nation initiatives and activities.
  • Information, communication and engagement: While consistent messages were often seen as important, respondents highlighted a range of methods and media which might be used in conveying any message(s) and ensuring that people were well-informed and able to make good food choices. These included public information campaigns, healthy eating messages, a publicly available database on nutritional content of different foods, clear information on food relating to provenance and nutritional content, TV programmes (a Scottish cookery show was one suggestion), 'common good' marketing (i.e., generic promotion of healthy products). As far as healthy eating messages were concerned, it was thought to be important to use a mix of different approaches, and to promote moderation and variety. Respondents occasionally picked up on the theme of celebrating good food, and wished to see positive, creative approaches which enthused and inspired people. There was, it was argued, an opportunity to exploit the current popular interest in food. Thus events, visits and cookery demonstrations were all mentioned.

The Food Commission

6.15 The discussion document provided a brief outline of the remit of the Food Commission, and views were invited on how the Commission could best help Scotland become a Good Food Nation.

6.16 Although no specific question was included, comments indicated that respondents were broadly supportive of the principle of establishing a Food Commission and thought it could potentially play a useful role by bringing clarity and coherence to the field.

6.17 There were a small number of respondents, however, who queried the need for the Commission and the value it would bring. In particular, they voiced concerns about an already crowded organisational landscape in relation to food policy, and the risk of duplicating effort and / or creating further confusion about roles and remits. The concerns raised by those explicitly questioning the need for the Commission were also raised by many other respondents who offered a range of caveats and qualifications alongside generally supportive views.

The role and remit of the Food Commission

6.18 The specific question posed in the consultation document asked how a Food Commission could best help. Respondents offered a wide range of comments relating to the potential role and remit of the Commission.

6.19 A prominent theme in the responses was the wish to see the Commission take a strong, strategic and visible role to ensure delivery of the Good Food Nation vision. Typically, this would involve the Commission having an oversight role, and coordinating the work of other organisations, identifying gaps and making connections, working in partnership with other relevant bodies and / or facilitating collaborative working between different sectors and organisations.

6.20 Another key theme in relation to the role of the Commission related to definitions, evidence gathering, mapping work (policies, organisations, activities and initiatives), target setting, monitoring and reporting. This was linked to the desire to see the Commission take a strong strategic role. In particular it was argued that effective action would not be possible without full knowledge and understanding of the current situation. This was a common theme in relation to defining and measuring success (see Chapter 5) but was also often highlighted as a key initial task for the Food Commission.

6.21 Respondents also envisaged the Commission as having a key role in engaging with different sectors, particularly those at community level, with the Commission providing a channel for hearing the views of different groups and advocating on their behalf. In this way the Commission was seen as facilitating a 'bottom-up' approach.

6.22 One way in which it was envisaged that the Food Commission would engage with grass-roots activities was through local 'food champions', and a small number of respondents offered comments on this proposal. Most commonly, respondents drew attention to existing local food champions and stressed the need to work constructively with them and build on existing knowledge and achievements.

6.23 Respondents recognised the cross-cutting nature of the Good Food Nation vision, and the inherent tensions within that (e.g., between economic growth and environmental sustainability), and saw two different roles for the Commission. While some argued that the Commission should take a brokering role and build consensus around priorities and objectives, others felt that the Commission should take a bold line in providing leadership, setting the agenda and identifying priorities.

6.24 Many respondents envisaged a role for the Commission in challenging and holding others to account, whether this was Ministers, 'big business', or other public bodies working in the area.

6.25 More specific roles suggested by some for the Commission included, for example: providing guidance, promoting good practice and encouraging food excellence within the food industry; raising awareness and leading public education and communication campaigns; supporting local projects and initiatives.

Governance and organisation

6.26 As well as offering comment on the role of the Food Commission, respondents also offered a range of views on the governance and organisation of the Commission. Such comments went to the heart of the credibility of the Commission and its potential to be effective in fulfilling its functions, and included the following:

  • There was a strong call for clarity about the role and remit of the Food Commission. Respondents queried its relationship with other bodies, in particular, the newly created Food Standards Scotland, and Scotland Food and Drink. There was concern expressed about the possibility for duplication and confusion.
  • The status of the Food Commission were commented on by some. Several respondents argued that the Commission needed appropriate powers and routes to action in order to bring about change. Respondents stressed the need for the Commission to be connected to policy makers and to have influence at appropriate levels (e.g., with government and Ministers).
  • Respondents often commented on the membership of the Commission. There was a clear call for wide-ranging, inclusive membership and concern that the Commission should not be dominated by big business or vested interests. In particular respondents wished to see representatives from third sector organisations, community groups and individuals with particular perspectives or experiences (e.g., those from disadvantaged communities; 'experts' in relevant disciplines). As well as representation across sectors and interests, some also wished to see an element of geographic representation. The importance of a transparent appointment system was also noted, with some favouring elected members.
  • Those commenting on the size and structure of the Commission offered a range of views, with some favouring a small number of appointed members (e.g., six) and others favouring a larger more inclusive membership. Some envisaged working groups with specific remits operating under the auspices of the Commission.
  • Independence, openness, transparency and accountability were all highlighted as key to the integrity and standing of the Food Commission.
  • Responses touched on two main issues relating to resources: the need for the Commission itself to be properly resourced so it could be effective in carrying out its own activities; and the need for it to have access to a budget for supporting the work of others (e.g., local food and community growing initiatives, research and development work).



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