On Thursday a long awaited piece of legislation committing Scotland to becoming a Good Food Nation was passed at Holyrood. The bill commits the Scottish Government to ensure we all have access to adequate good food, that local producers are supported and that measures are taken to reduce dietary disease and the environmental impact of the food chain.
To ensure these commitments aren’t just meaningless, a Scottish Food Commission is also established to conduct research and to give recommendations and advice to Ministers to ensure the Good Food Nation becomes a reality.
It will have it’s work cut out. On the same day the bill was passed into law, the Institute of Grocery Distribution predicted food prices in the UK could rise by 15% this summer, the biggest jump in more than 20 years.
This is even worse than the 10% food price inflation predicted recently by the Marks and Spencer Chairman Archie Norman but it is in line with warnings from the Bank of England Governor that Britons were facing “apocalyptic” food price increases.
The reasons behind it are multi-faceted. Global food chains, already strained by the pandemic, have been disrupted further by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the impact that has on wheat supplies. Add in production lockdowns in China and disruption caused by Brexit and what you have is a perfect storm.
Whatever the causes, the outcomes are clear. Rising grocery prices will increase a typical family of four’s monthly food shopping bill from £396 per month to £439 a month this summer, at a time when other living costs are also rising fast.
No one is unaffected. Recent surveys show 87% of shoppers have noticed increases in their supermarket bills with one in seven lower income households admitting have been missing more meals. Even higher income households have said they have started planning their shopping more carefully.
All of this means the Good Food Nation Bill has never been more timely or more necessary, as long as it leads to action.
Back in 2014 when the original vision “Becoming A Good Food Nation” was published, the world was a very different place. Our food and drink sector was booming, we were in the European Union and the pandemic was six years away. Being a Good Food Nation then meant making sure everyone enjoyed the success and shared the benefits.
What a lot has changed. The new bill takes much of that into account but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
It’s one thing saying you are a Good Food Nation, it’s quite another thing to take the harsh decisions needed to head off an obesity crisis and improve the nation’s diet.
Perhaps the most pressing issue is the legislation’s commitment to ensuring all Scots can get access to good, healthy food.
In a vibrant economy that would be a challenge but with inflation tipped to top 11% this autumn when the energy price cap resets, it is a huge undertaking.
We all want to see Scotland become a Good Food Nation, but right now the challenge for many families is putting any food on the table. This will be the legislation’s first big test.