More than 70 leading charities, academics and special interest groups have joined forces to submit a joint letter to the First Minister calling for the Good Food Nation Bill to be brought forward for a vote before the end of this Parliament in 2021.
The Scottish Government is consulting on the next steps for the bill, which aims to widen access to healthy local foods and ensure the industry remains sustainable.
But the letter, spearheaded by campaign group Scottish Food Coalition, says surging levels of food insecurity and record food bank demand across Scotland has raised the urgency to bring in the “cross-cutting legislation”.
UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Hilal Elver is among the co-signatories. The letter has also been backed by groups including the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Scottish Wildlife Trust, the University of Edinburgh and senior health officers at NHS Fife and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Campaigners want the right to food to be enshrined in Scots law to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The move would guarantee that people in Scotland could access enough to eat while preventing benefits agencies from imposing penalties if it meant threatening a claimant’s food supply.
The creation of an independent food commission and statutory targets for increasing the number of people with a healthy weight are among other goals. The letter says: “Scotland is the most obese nation in the EU and we have made little progress on this issue in the last 20 years.
“Inequality in childhood obesity has increased. Food insecurity is unacceptably high and food bank attendances continue to grow.
“Our food and farming system accounts for around a third of our greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on all aspects of our environment ... these multiple challenges reflect different aspects of a single system which, like our energy and transport systems, needs transformative change to be fit for purpose.”
Thousands more Scots have taken on a second job over the past year as families struggle to make ends meet amid surging food bank use. Almost 100,000 workers north of the Border had two jobs between April last year and this March – a rise of 13,000 in the past year alone.
Ms Sturgeon declared a “climate emergency” at the SNP’s conference in April as Scotland aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. But Professor Mary Brennan, chair of the Scottish Food Coalition, said more needed to be done despite the Government making “great strides” in the past decade.
“We are facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity, a biodiversity and climate crisis, and the highest rates of obesity in Europe,” she said.
“These challenges are all connected. They reflect different aspects of a single food system.
“We need to confront these issues now and this requires wholesale transformative change.
“Whether that is about health, community cohesion, economic development or environmental protection, Scotland has an exciting opportunity to be world leading by developing holistic, joined up, cross-ministerial policies and regulation around food.”