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Chamber and committees

Health, Social Care and Sport Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Agenda: Interests, Decision on Taking Business in Private, Independent Review into Racism in Scottish Cricket, Food Standards Scotland


Contents


Food Standards Scotland

The Convener

Welcome back. The fourth item on our agenda is an evidence session with Food Standards Scotland. I welcome Heather Kelman, who is its chair, and Geoff Ogle, who is its chief executive. Heather—I believe that you want to make an opening statement.

Heather Kelman (Food Standards Scotland)

I will make just a short statement. Thank you.

Good morning, convener and members of the committee. Geoff and I welcome the opportunity to represent Food Standards Scotland for the first time in this process of, we hope, regular parliamentary scrutiny.

Food Standards Scotland is Scotland’s independent public sector food body. We collaborate closely with the Scottish Government, the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the United Kingdom Health Security Agency to represent Scotland’s interests in food-related issues at UK level.

Our purpose is public health protection. We have an annual budget of about £22.9 million and employ about 300 staff, about half of whom are in the field. Our annual report and accounts, which were laid before Parliament last autumn, summarised our performance for 2021-22, which was a period of significant restructuring as we created the capacity and capability to deal with the consequences of European Union exit.

The report also highlighted publication of our second strategy. Building on the achievements of the previous six years, it addresses challenges arising from EU exit, Covid-19 and climate change. A key priority for the board is that we strengthen our influence over policies to improve Scotland’s diet, which is one of the nation’s most significant public health challenges. The committee is very aware of the impact of obesity on individuals and of the growing and unsustainable demand that it places on the national health service, other public services and the economy.

Last year, we also published our first joint report on food standards, “Our Food 2021”. It was developed collaboratively with the Food Standards Agency and is a data-based and evidence-based annual status tracking report that tracks the safety and standards of food in the UK, and aims to ensure that consumers and parliamentarians remain sighted on the changes and threats to our food system.

There are key challenges affecting Food Standards Scotland. Like most public sector bodies, we are financially constrained. For us, the consequences of exiting the EU are not short term; instead, they are expanding and shall continue to do so. Despite that, the resource spending review indicates a flat-line budget, going forward. The board has responded by undertaking a prioritisation exercise that aims to ensure that our top priorities are delivered and that staff wellbeing is maintained. The financial constraints will impact on delivery of our strategy and involve a number of actions being paused or delivered over a longer period.

The capacity and resilience of the food law-enforcement regime is also compromised. The inability to fill vacancies, budget shortfalls and an increase in workload have placed local authority environmental health teams in a precarious position. We have developed a programme of work to increase efficiency and improve the capacity and capability of those vital teams. It will be delivered in partnership with local authority partners and has the support of the Society of Chief Officers of Environmental Health in Scotland and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers. As it requires the introduction of a new centralised database to facilitate an intelligence-driven system, the programme will take several years to fully implement.

Given that tomorrow is Robbie Burns day, I shall borrow his words:

“The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley”.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, if enacted in its present form, will divert us from our strategy and core purpose. I make no apologies for stating that so bluntly. As Burns ended:

“An’ forward, tho’ I cannot see,
I guess an’ fear!”

The Convener

Thank you very much, Heather. A lot of our members want to speak to you about EU exit in detail and how that is impacting on the standards of, and access to, food.

I want to take us to other events of the past year. There have been some significant global events, including the conflict in Ukraine, which is a major supplier of food to Europe, the UK and beyond. The cost of living has increased dramatically, and inflation is 9 per cent and was 10 per cent; it has come down slightly—not that you would know from the price of food in the supermarkets. How are the supply chain issues that are being caused by the conflict in Ukraine, by EU exit and by the cost of living impacting on families who are finding it difficult to access good-quality food? How are you reprioritising your work around those issues? What impact is that having? How are you responding?

Heather Kelman

I agree that it has been a challenging year, especially coming straight off the back of Covid. Geoff Ogle will talk about some of the work that has arisen from the Ukraine situation and its impact on the availability of products such as oil and food. It has also contributed to inflation, especially in food prices.

My greatest fear is that the inflation has several drivers: the cost of energy, fuel and fertiliser. Inflation is not 9 per cent for food prices: it is far higher and is not equally distributed across all the food groups. The high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar foods—the discretionary foods, as we call them: biscuits, cakes and crisps—are experiencing far less price inflation than fresh foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables. The worst-hit foods are dairy products.

For us, that has a significant consequence for health inequalities. Our role in tackling inflation is, obviously, about providing evidence of the impact of that. We have very little control over the energy and fuel costs drivers: from my point of view, I would love to see Westminster making more effort to drive down energy costs. Dairy products are very energy dependent because of refrigeration requirements. There is more that could be done. I have not seen a reduction in food price inflation yet. It continues to be very high and it will take a while for that to work through the system. Will prices drop or stay where they are?

The Convener

It is interesting that high-sugar, high-fat and salty foods are not being impacted as much as fresh food. It does not take a genius to work out that a family with a very limited budget trying to keep the kids from being hungry has to make choices. The long-term impact of that on health inequalities and children’s health could be significant.

10:45  

Heather Kelman

There is an impact on the health of children, and on the health of elderly people as well, because the energy-to-nutrient balance requirement changes again as we get older. Families with fixed or limited incomes have to get the calories into their children, but the protein that is required for growth and development is not necessarily represented in the same amount in those foods and nor are the essential vitamins and minerals. There is a risk that we will see increasing health inequality, which has the potential to affect things such as educational attainment, growth and development. It is not a small problem.

We have been providing additional information. We set up the “Eat Well, Your Way” database last year, and we have been adding information to that to guide people in making healthier choices. More information has been put on there, including tips on how to keep the balance right. Over the summer last year, I spoke to retailers about trying to make sure that promotions were focused on healthier products and not so much on the high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar products. The response was mixed; I can only ask them to do that because we do not yet have legislation to drive it. However, we had good responses initially from the people whom we spoke to. We are carrying on those conversations. We hope to invite all the retailers to present to the board over the next 12 months or so to try to encourage them to work towards our goal of having a healthier food environment.

The Convener

You have pre-empted what I was going to ask. Big retailers have a big part to play in this.

With the cost of living crisis, high energy costs and the other issues that you have mentioned, do we run the risk of seeing the return of health conditions that, we thought, were banished to the past?

Heather Kelman

We have no evidence of that yet, but it is early days. We have done a survey on how consumers’ eating trends are, as a consequence, changing. We are seeing that people are trying to use food that is past its sell-by date and trying to extend the life of products in order to have less food waste. However, there is more research to be done. There is definitely a risk, but it is too early to say whether that risk will be realised on the basis of the evidence so far.

We will not know until it has happened.

Geoff—you want to come in.

Geoff Ogle (Food Standards Scotland)

I have a couple of quick points to make. Every six months, we do a consumer tracker survey. Wave 15 was in July last year, and we are just going through the results of the latest one. Consumers expressing concern about food supply shortages increased from 65 per cent to 70 per cent. Consumers expressing concern about the price of food went from 64 per cent to 75 per cent, so three quarters of consumers are concerned about food prices.

Another point that is worth emphasising about the cost of living is that lower socioeconomic groups spend proportionally far more of their income on food and basics. Therefore, particularly on issues such as food price inflation, there is not an even impact across socioeconomic groups; it impacts some disproportionately. If you have a low income, the chances are that you will want your money to go further. High-fat, high-salt and high-sugar foods have high energy and all those sorts of things, so people are potentially forced to make difficult choices that they do not necessarily want to make.

The Convener

Of course, a lot of those foods do not need to be cooked, and people might be unable to afford to put on their gas or electricity.

Geoff, before I allow my colleagues to come in, Heather said that you had some information about the impact of the war in Ukraine, which I mentioned. Can you talk about that?

Geoff Ogle

I worked with the retail sector quite a lot on preparations for EU exit and during Covid. The industry across the piece had a fair amount of resilience, planning and experience to deal with the situation in Ukraine. The impact has primarily been around sunflower production; I think that Ukraine has about 80 per cent of the world’s production. There was an initial hit and concern, but generally the market has adapted pretty well in respect of alternatives and alternative sources of supply.

Where are we now? I suppose that some impacts have come through from the war, but the food supply market has generally adapted. The issue is more the import costs of energy and so on, which are making a much bigger impact.

From a consumer perspective, I will add something about food inflation, in particular. I cannot remember who it was who said that prices tend to rise like a rocket and fall like a feather. It was Martin somebody; a money expert. Obviously, if prices do not fall quickly and inflation and food prices stay high, even though prices are coming down, the pressures on consumers will last longer.

The Convener

That is another thing that we see, to a certain extent, with energy prices. The trading prices of energy come down a bit, but that is not passed on to the consumer. Similarly, there is an increase in food costs, and I guess that there might be some reluctance to bring the prices down in line with any of the inputs.

Geoff Ogle

It is easier to bring prices down in some areas than it is in others. Many large organisations, in particular, will hedge their costs. The costs are fixed in, so if they are fixed in at the wrong point when they are high, that high cost will be maintained. However, we say that where prices are coming down, that decrease should be passed on so that consumers feel the benefit. Given the pressures across the food industry, the temptation is to keep prices high, due to the impact of Brexit and Covid and what they have meant for profit margins and everything else. There is a real issue.

The Convener

You mentioned the Covid pandemic. Supermarkets were recording record profits at that time. Is that still the case? Are the major supermarkets still making the same levels of profits while food prices are going up for ordinary families?

Geoff Ogle

I have also had discussions with the retailers on that. It is an interesting thing. I am not here to defend retailers, by the way. I want to put that on the record. However, in a sense, the explanation relates partly to the fact that during Covid, in particular, the whole hospitality sector shut down, so the only place to go for food was the retail sector. There was, therefore, a natural distortion of the market.

When I talk to retailers, they say that they are getting requests from their suppliers for large increases in costs, and that they are also under pressure to keep costs down so that consumers are not hit too hard. They have said consistently that there is a level beyond which they are not be able to absorb the costs and they have to be passed on. That is what we are seeing now. The questions about where the markets end up and about profits are for somebody at another pay grade, but they are questions that need to be asked in order to understand the market dynamics.

Yes; it is a fundamental question. I will pass on to my colleagues; I have hogged the mic for long enough.

Good morning. What impact has Brexit had on your work on risk management and oversight functions?

Heather Kelman

I will pass that question to Geoff Ogle.

Geoff Ogle

Thanks. EU exit has had a major impact on us. If you look at the legal base, you will see that the extent of EU-derived food law is significant. Around 200 Scottish statutory instruments are affected by retained EU law. It is a pretty complex system.

We have lost access to the likes of the European Food Safety Authority, so all the risk assessment that used to be done by it has been lost, and we now have to do that with the FSA. We have also lost access to the rapid alert system for food safety issues, so we have had to look at alternatives. On things such as food crime, Scotland and the UK had a major influence on developing food crime capability and intelligence after the horsemeat issue. We no longer have access to that, so we have lost our ability to influence such critical issues.

In organisational terms, EU exit has had a massive impact on us. We got some increase in resourcing for EU issues but, in reality, the live experience of leaving the EU is showing that the resourcing that we have is not enough. By comparison, in staffing our science capability, for example, we have increased by nine and the FSA has increased by 90, so there is a real disparity in our abilities.

If any product needs a risk assessment, we now have to do it ourselves. We will still use international data and research as part of that, so it would be quite reasonable for us to take into account any efforts or opinions on science, as any other Administration can, but we are pretty much having to go it alone. On food safety, we are, in effect, replicating pretty much the whole of the EU institutions.

David Torrance

What benefits have emerged from collaboration between the FSS and the Food Standards Agency, as set out in the 2020 memorandum of understanding? How well is that collaboration working compared with the working arrangements that existed prior to the UK’s exit from the European Union?

Geoff Ogle

Our relationship with the FSA is pretty good and solid, partly because, before Food Standards Scotland came into being, we were Food Standards Agency Scotland, so we basically moved from the FSA. We have regular liaison with the FSA at all levels. I usually have a weekly catch-up with the chief executive. Heather Kelman can talk about her regular catch-ups with the chair. Under the memorandum of understanding, we have six-monthly joint chair and chief executive meetings.

Generally, the relationships with the FSA are pretty solid and good. That is not to say that there is not the occasional difference of opinion or different view. We have taken the approach generally that we will not be different for the sake of being different, but we will be different where it is in Scotland’s interests to be so, and we have pretty much maintained that.

David Torrance

In light of evidence as at December 2022, only one of the 32 common frameworks has been finalised. What risks are there to Scottish food supplies, safety and production if the common frameworks in the remit of the FSS are not finalised?

Geoff Ogle

Some of the mechanics of the formal agreements of the frameworks cannot be formalised because of the situation in Northern Ireland. The common frameworks were set up as a means of being—the clue is in the name, really—common frameworks, but they allow for divergence where an Administration could make a case for that divergence according to particular needs. For example, there could be a health issue.

However, we have found that, because the frameworks have no legal basis, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 could pretty much undermine the process and purpose of a framework, as an Administration can decide what it wants to do and, under that act, a good that has been produced in one country can be sold in another against the terms in which it was produced in the country that it was produced in. That means that you could have goods on the shelves in Scotland that could be made in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. When you are looking at the good from an enforcement perspective, for example, you find that you cannot apply Scots law; you have to understand the law that applied in the country in which the good was produced. Therefore, an environmental health officer in Scotland has to understand the legal basis of that good being produced in England in order to be able to decide whether it meets the legal requirements.

To be honest, the frameworks were not given time to be tested before the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 was introduced. That is the honest answer to that question.

Thank you very much. I have no further questions.

11:00  

Gillian Mackay

I have a follow-up question to David Torrance’s last question. Does that in essence mean that there is no way in which to enforce divergence for the different nations of the United Kingdom if goods that have been made in another country can be sold in, for example, Scotland against decisions that have been made here for public health reasons?

Geoff Ogle

On the vagaries of the 2020 act, if we want to introduce particular terms in Scotland—for example, if we want to introduce a health initiative—as a matter of practicality, a kind of objective justification argument is involved. If you can objectively justify the reason why you want to do something, you can do it. Something could be sold in Scotland, and it could be sold elsewhere.

I will make sure that I do a note on this just to confirm it but, as I understand it, part of the issue is the discrimination sections in the 2020 act and what they mean, and whether there is some risk that, for example, Scottish producers will say that it is more expensive to produce the same goods in Scotland than it is somewhere else and that that is therefore discriminatory. However, I would need to confirm that.

What we have not really got yet is any hard evidence of how the 2020 act is impacting. It is a bit too early to say. We have not come across any particular issues in respect of which we have really hit a buffer or barrier with the 2020 act.

Is there a danger that the system is more complicated now, with the 2020 act, the common frameworks and other pieces of legislation, than it was when we were in the EU and under other frameworks?

Geoff Ogle

Yes, it is far more complicated. From our particular perspective, we have the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021 to consider as well. Therefore, we have all those different pieces of legislation and, going forward, we will have the retained EU law. The board has reached a view that our position is that all law should be preserved but, if other Administrations should do something differently, that could have an impact as well, because there will be potential divergence. In some ways, there is more risk of divergence now than there was before.

Does Evelyn Tweed want to come in on that?

Evelyn Tweed

Yes. Thanks, convener. I want to come in on a point that you raised and to which Geoff Ogle responded on supermarkets’ profits at this time. I read a really interesting article in the business pages of The Sunday Times recently that suggested that the profits had to be considered, because it was still felt that they were too high, even in the present circumstances with Brexit and Ukraine. What can we do? Earlier, you said that you were speaking to various retailers and others. What more can we as politicians do to get into that?

Geoff Ogle

Again, I am not here to defend the retailers, although there are a few points that I would make. In the discussions that I have had with retail representatives, an argument has certainly been made that prices in the UK have been too low and that what we have seen is a market price adjustment. I am not saying that I agree with that; I am just saying that that is a point that has been made.

A number of mechanisms already exist. There is the Competition and Markets Authority and the groceries code adjudicator. They are partly there to ensure that the market works appropriately. For example, the groceries code adjudicator will look in particular at the way in which retailers deal with their suppliers, and the CMA deals with the general rules around competition and that sort of thing.

I am not sure that I know the answer to the question of when profit is too high. It is not for me to make a judgment. The issue from our perspective as an organisation is to keep pointing out where there are impacts on consumers and where those impacts are adverse ones.

We have limited levers in what we can do, but we can certainly point to issues that we think are not in the interests of consumers. That is what we will continue to do.

I am afraid that I am not sure whether I have entirely answered your question.

Heather Kelman

From a board perspective, we feel that the evidence gathering and getting that publicised is really important. As we cannot impose any legal constraints, it is important to raise the corporate social responsibility type of argument about the disbenefits of additional profits for the price of food for consumers. We need to keep representing the interests of consumers, keep publishing as much as we can and keep trying to influence shareholders or chief executives, and we need to carry on with the round of meetings that we have got going with the retail industry. There is not much else we can do on that front.

Does Evelyn Tweed want to come back in?

I was just going to say that it would be helpful if the FSS could keep highlighting to us what the issues are.

Heather Kelman

Absolutely.

The Convener

The whole idea of corporate social responsibility is really important, particularly given what you have said about the price rises being lower for certain foods and higher for others. That almost seems counterintuitive, given the processes that there might be for high-fat and high-sugar items. I get that fresh food does not last long on the shelves, but that is having an impact on consumers. In particular, it will have an impact on more vulnerable groups, such as children, older people and people in socially deprived areas. Thank you for highlighting that.

Emma Harper

I have a quick question for Geoff Ogle about the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. The UK Government has introduced the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill. Does that mean that Scottish farmers will be impacted by a policy that we do not have control over because of the UK Government’s 2020 act? Does that mean that Scottish farmers will have to accept genetically edited products? Agriculture is devolved to Scotland, but I am concerned that, because of the 2020 act, the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will impact on Scottish farmers.

Geoff Ogle

I am not so sure that it will impact on Scottish farmers. My understanding is that anything that is produced in England using gene-editing techniques could be sold in Scotland. In research that we did, over three quarters—77 per cent—of respondents across the UK wanted information in cases where foods had been precision bred; in Scotland, that figure was 75 per cent. When we had a board discussion on the issue last March, the board’s view was that, if such goods were going to be sold in Scotland, there would be an issue around transparency for consumers and being clear to them in cases where products had been precision bred. In effect, the labelling of products would have to be looked at. That is where it is at the moment.

Another interesting thing from our perspective is that there is certainly a case for looking at the science. Genetic modification and gene editing are different things. We also know that consumer understanding is pretty low. Consumers are generally more satisfied once they understand something more, but equally, they want the transparency that goes with that. The transparency is really important.

It sounds as if everyone needs to tread carefully and to be very evidence-base oriented. We need to make sure that the public are engaged with, if the bill is to be taken forward.

Geoff Ogle

Yes. In the discussions that I have had with Scottish Government ministers, they are certainly very aware of that issue. It is part of Màiri McAllan’s brief, and I have had a couple of meetings with her. In the discussions that I have had, the key point has been that things need to be done on an informed basis and that people need to understand what they mean and what their implications are. Again, transparency is key.

Okay. Thank you.

Stephanie Callaghan

Heather Kelman referred to influencing. When suppliers and big organisations pay to promote their products and pay for where those products sit on the shelves, realistically, how much influence can you have on that practice to improve uptake of healthy foods? Are there any recommendations that the committee could make to the Scottish Government that could increase your level of influence?

Heather Kelman

I am just going to get my names right, because I never remember the names of bills—I am hopeless.

The proposed public health (restriction of promotions) bill, which is being progressed, covers that area. We are learning from the English version. An issue that we witness down south is that, when products are not allowed to be promoted at the end of aisles, there are mid-aisle promotions. We can have a discussion about our definition of “location promotion”. There are two aspects: price promotion and location promotion. That work, which involves being clear about what we need to legislate for, will make it an awful lot easier.

Interestingly, in my discussions with retailers, they are not against that approach. They want a level playing field. Some of them have been running voluntary schemes for a while, but they think that, if there is legislation, there will be clarity and equality. We hope that they can then push that back to the manufacturers, because some of the promotions down in England—edge-of-shelf labelling and mid-aisle big displays—come from the manufacturers.

We should be aware of the loopholes. I am asking the industry to consider its corporate social responsibility—not to try to find loopholes in what we are trying to achieve but to be focused on the public health responsibility to look after wellbeing, which, as a nation, we should all share. We need to continue sending the message that we are looking for responsible businesses, not for people to look for loopholes to continue to promote foods that are quite clearly damaging to health.

That is helpful.

Geoff Ogle

There are a couple of points to make about diet and foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. First, in the media, the narrative is often that the answer to the problem is that people need to exercise more and eat healthier, with fewer calories, and the problem will be solved. It is a complete mistake to think that that is the answer.

Two out of three adults in Scotland are overweight or living with obesity. The annual cost of treating conditions associated with that ranges from £363 million to £600 million. The total cost to the Scottish economy, including labour markets, is estimated to be between £0.9 billion and £4.6 billion. If we do not think that the dietary situation in Scotland is an economic crisis as well as a health one, we will not solve the problem.

When people say, “Okay, we’ll move things from the end of the aisle and stick them in the middle instead, so that we get around the legislation”, that fundamentally misses the point about the need to address the public health challenges. That is the fundamental issue.

With regard to the food environment, 25 per cent of calories—a quarter of what we consume—are consumed out of the home, and most of that food is high in fat, salt and sugar, with very little nutritional value. If we do not think that tackling the food environment is the answer to the question, I would say, “Well, what is?” If we think that it comes down to individuals, we will never solve it.

Heather Kelman

It is not that we are completely ignoring personal responsibility. However, Public Health Scotland has the expertise in that area, and we work in partnership with it. Public Health Scotland takes the lead on that, and we take the lead on the food environment.

The Convener

As a committee, we recommended, following our deliberations on the national planning framework, that local councillors should be able to turn down planning applications on the basis of health. Would you support that?

11:15  

Geoff Ogle

Yes, we support that. We did a study outside the school gate, and it clearly shows that, in environments around locations such as schools, there is an issue with the food that is available. Planning is a key part of the solution.

There is no easy answer. It is a cycler thing—it is the sum of the parts and the individual little bits that make the difference. Is planning in there? Absolutely.

That is helpful. It is grist to our mill.

Sandesh Gulhane

I am a little flabbergasted at the idea that we will never solve anything if we do not ensure that individuals eat less and exercise more. As a general practitioner, I tell my patients about ways to improve their diet and ways to exercise. Not everyone is able to do the same thing. Surely you recognise that individuals need to be better educated and need to learn how to do things, rather than saying that that will never make any difference.

Geoff Ogle

No, I did not say that. I said that the idea that we can solve this problem only through personal responsibility is not right. It is a mistake to think that the only way that we can solve it is by focusing on individual behaviours. Do we support the need to eat more healthily and exercise more? Absolutely. Look at our website: we have all sorts of things about healthy diets, and there is advice to consumers on how they can improve their lifestyle.

However, if we do not tackle the food environment, we will make it harder for individuals. Heather Kelman would be better at talking about the cases and that stuff, but, as a GP, you will know about that. I am not saying that personal responsibility is not part of the equation; I am saying that it is a mistake to think that it is the only solution.

Sandesh Gulhane

Absolutely. It is not the only solution, and we need to do a lot more, but it is certainly important, and we need to spend time educating people on that.

Look at Scotland’s diet. We in Scotland are one of the fattest nations in the world. I cannot really talk, because I am overweight, but I am working hard to lose weight. I am trying to lose weight not because I want to look better but for health reasons and to make sure that I do not progress to type 2 diabetes, for example. It is important that we frame the conversation around health, not looks.

I have a few questions. Can Food Standards Scotland look at things such as meal deals, for example? I do not know anyone who would choose a banana over a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar. The cost of such things does not make sense to me. Is there anything that you could do to offer free fruit with a meal deal or something along those lines?

Heather Kelman

First of all, I am a former dietitian, so I totally support your view that it is vital that we treat obesity. Our role is not so much in treating obesity but in making sure that people have the opportunity to eat a healthy diet, and we try to address that problem in a long-term and sustainable way.

Meal deals are part of the promotions issue that we are looking at. “Buy one, get one free” offers will be covered by the promotions bill, and meal deals could come into it, too. It is really important that we word it so that the healthy option can be included but the unhealthy option cannot be.

I talked to some retailers about their reward schemes and the points that customers collect. One retailer has recently reintroduced additional points for fruit and vegetables. There are ways that we can guide retailers to consider promotions that guide people towards healthier choices. However, I go back to my initial point: it is difficult for people on restricted incomes to make that choice because, as you will be aware from your patients, some of the options for eating a healthy diet are quite a bit more expensive than the lower-cost options. It is really important that we tackle the food environment alongside that. We are trying to push the idea that you do not have to stop promotions but you should consider promotions that encourage and enable people to choose to eat a nutrient-rich and calorie-appropriate diet.

Sandesh Gulhane

On the issue of choice, I often hear people saying that they struggle to know what to buy and struggle to cook. Lots of companies—we do not want to promote them, but I am thinking of companies such as HelloFresh and Gousto—create a food box to send to people. You get everything that you need, with step-by-step instructions on how to cook the meal, but they are very expensive. Would it be useful for supermarkets to create things that are easy to pick up, so that people would not have to get their onions from one place and then walk across the supermarket to get something else? Instead, the supermarket could give them a card that shows that the ingredients are all in one place and easy to find, and that shows how to cook the soup, the casserole or whatever they are looking for.

Heather Kelman

Some supermarkets are doing that. Whether those are low-cost options is questionable. There is a variety. Some have recipe cards on the shelves, but, to a certain extent, you still have to go and find the ingredients to go with them. Some have moved the ingredients closer. There is an opportunity for that combination of foods—where possible, because some things have to be refrigerated—to replace some of the end-of-aisle promotions for foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

The main retailers have assessed layouts—they have done quite a bit of research on how to maximise sales by making the customer go around the aisles in a particular way—so it would be quite a big step for them. We can only ask and try to encourage them from the corporate social responsibility angle. The only angle that we have at the moment is to try to raise awareness of the damage that is being done and to encourage them to consider their responsibility.

Geoff Ogle

Reformulation is critical. That goes back to the point that I made about the multiplicity of answers. We thought that the sugar levy that was introduced on soft drinks was a very good idea, and we supported it, but it did not go far enough. For example, if someone wants to make a bolognese, they might buy lean 5 per cent fat beef but then, without looking at it, buy a jar of pasta sauce with a really high sugar content. That person will have tried to make the effort but, unless they are aware of the need to look at the sugar content, the product will defeat the purpose of what they were trying to achieve. All the things that we can do to help consumers to help themselves are vital, but reformulation and the food environment are critical, too.

If we have more educated consumers who have greater understanding, the power of consumer purchasing will potentially have an influence. If consumers are aware of labels and stop buying products with a red label because they contain loads of sugar, market sales will fall and the industry will adapt. However, we still have to work on broadening understanding.

Sandesh Gulhane

That is interesting. I am glad that you brought that up, because my last question is about education. We need people to be more aware of the food that is consumed. That includes looking at labels, but there is only so often that I can stand in an aisle, stare at a packet, go through the ingredients and think, “How does that work?” What could we do to not only speed up that process but make it easier for people to make the right decision?

Geoff Ogle

We can look at what information technology is available. I know, not from personal experience but from my wife’s experience, that there is lots of technology to help with things such as calorie counting. Some of it is about understanding your own body and lifestyle. If you are a high-performing male athlete, 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day is not sufficient—it is okay to consume 6,000 calories if you burn 6,000 calories. It is about understanding your lifestyle, and your calorific consumption versus your energy output. All those things come into it.

There is probably also a generational thing in relation to levels of awareness. We have some evidence that millennials—I think that that is what they are called—are much more switched on to diet and lifestyle. There are opportunities, particularly in how we use technology.

Gillian Mackay

As a millennial, I think that we may be in danger of oversimplification in this line of questioning—if you teach everyone how to cook pasta, it will all be fine. Multiple factors are involved. We have already covered some of them, such as income, background, disability, health condition and all sorts of other things. As someone who has polycystic ovary syndrome, I have an insulin resistance and therefore need to look at an entirely different diet from that of someone else of my age and socioeconomic background. In your work, how do we address those multiple factors to make sure that everybody has the information that is relevant to them? Obviously, there is a vast array of advice and information on social media and so on, some of which is not particularly useful for an awful lot of people. How do we make sure that that information comes from reputable sources that are backed up by science and experts?

Heather Kelman

We developed “Eat Well, Your Way”, which is a web-based access point that contains dietary guidance. Unlike a lot of public health education, it is not black and white; it is a stepwise guide. It asks questions about a person’s habits, about how they shop, such as whether they shop at a corner shop or a supermarket, and about the size of a person’s family. It covers shopping, cooking and eating. The idea is to take a step at a time: people should find the bit that applies to them—one that they believe they can do—and make that health choice improvement. That was launched in September 2021. We have advertised it, there has been reasonable uptake and we will continue to promote its use. It has the potential to be developed further and help us with more of these issues.

That is the first step. I was on a webinar with dietitians from across the UK and, interestingly, they were unaware of it. It was exactly what they were calling for, so, when it was mentioned that Scotland already had it, there was great interest from those dietitians from across the UK. The Eatwell Guide—the plate—is well and good, but it does not cover ethnic diversity or age diversity, so having something that interprets that into eating choices is vital. It is one of the things that I would like to see us continuing to develop and build on. Eventually, there could be a phone app version, but we are starting small and growing.

Emma Harper

Picking up on Gillian Mackay’s point, I have been a type 1 diabetic since I was 12 years old, so I have been counting carbs since I was a wean. There are apps that can be used to look at that. It is not just about salt and sugar; it is about high-glucose-index versus low-glucose-index carbs. It is really complicated. Does Food Standards Scotland have, or would you look at having, digital support directly on your website to support the downloading of apps, for instance, so that folk such as Gillian and me could use diabetes dose adjustment for normal eating, which helps all type 1s to count carbs? That would be useful. Could Food Standards Scotland look at delivering that digitally?

Heather Kelman

I need to go back to the team to double-check exactly which websites link in. Links to alternative resources that people can access are promoted through the FSS website. That is a really good suggestion. I will speak to the nutrition team and find out where else we could go with developing that linkage and promoting those aids to help people to choose the right diet for their personal type.

You have a great website. I love it.

Heather Kelman

Thanks.

Evelyn Tweed

There is a load of good information there about diet, eating healthily and looking after your health. It is all great. How do you know that your message is getting out? How do you measure success?

11:30  

Heather Kelman

Our comms team is very good at tracking, and one of the performance indicators that the board has introduced is to look at the uptake and the contacts into that website. We felt that, if this is one of the areas that we are building our new strategy on, we need to monitor the access to it. This year is a baseline year and, next year, we intend to set some targets to try to improve that uptake and access. We try to promote the website wherever possible. We have done quite a few things with schools and other groups like that. We promote it when we are at the Royal Highland Show and events like that, but we need to get even better at managing that. The board’s view was that we should make it one of our strategic performance indicators, set a baseline and set some targets for increasing the uptake. That is what the board is trying to do at the moment.

Evelyn Tweed

You should use us to help you with that messaging. When you have your targets in place, tell us what they are and we can also share the website. Now that I have seen what a great website it is and the information on it, I will certainly be sharing it and asking people to use it.

I want to ask about vitamin D. You said that you are promoting the use of vitamin D from October to April. That is great, but what do you say to people now, when money is tight and they may not see it as an essential?

Heather Kelman

That is very interesting. Given the evidence to show that vitamin D is vital, especially in the dark months in Scotland, I had already raised the issue of fairness and health inequalities. People can get free vitamin D when they are pregnant or breastfeeding, and children under the age of three can get free vitamin D. There is a question for Parliament about whether we should look a little broader at having free vitamin D for people who will struggle to afford it. The levels of vitamin D, especially at this time of year, are very low among the Scottish population.

When I was young and training to be a dietitian, it was all about bone strength, but we now know so much more about the role of vitamin D in the body and how important it is for our general health and our ability to fight infection and support our immune system.

We will continue to promote vitamin D. We have done some very good advertising campaigns and programmes. We have had to reel back on that a little bit because of our budget, and we wonder whether promoting vitamin D should be our top priority rather than continuing to promote overall healthy eating.

You mentioned cost. There is a range of varieties of vitamin D, and some more work might need to be done to make some non-branded versions more available. That is not in our bailiwick, but I think that it is vital. We raised this about a year ago when I was talking to somebody in the health and social care department about cost. Vitamin D is quite expensive to buy, especially for the elderly, who are encouraged to take it all year round.

It is important to say that, if you are of darker skin, you should be taking vitamin D in Scotland all year round.

Heather Kelman

Apologies—I meant to mention that that is our advice for ethnic groups as well.

Stephanie Callaghan

I want to follow up on the vitamin part of it as well. First, on the point that Sandesh Gulhane raised about personal responsibility, there are families that have to put every single bit of their time and energy into making it through the day and putting food in their children’s belly to stop them feeling hungry. That is the priority, and it is not about nutrition. I ran a health food store for several years, and I used to tell my children that protein gives you big muscles. I would get them to show me their muscles after they had eaten stuff. I told them that carbohydrates give you energy, and I would get them to show me all their energy once they had eaten something up.

There is certainly education stuff that we can do, but when you are struggling for money and feeding your kids spaghetti hoops out of a tin with some toast for three days in a row, that really does not help you. It is quite a pressure knowing that the nutritional value of that food is really quite low. We have certain vitamin and mineral supplements for pregnant women, as you mentioned, and for young children, but I wonder whether having a top-up dose that helps prevent deficiency diseases has been considered at a wider level. Earlier, the convener mentioned that we have seen some of those things coming back to a certain degree. I just wonder where that is now. I am also interested in whether anything is happening on breastfeeding, because that has an obvious long-term impact.

Heather Kelman

I am not aware that we are doing anything on multivitamin and mineral supplementation, because our prime aim is to ensure that all members of the public have access to a healthy, balanced diet. At the moment, our strategy is to focus on that.

I appreciate that, but that is not the position that we are in just now. Might that be considered?

Heather Kelman

I was going on to say that you have raised an issue that highlights a point in time. We would need to look at the evidence.

Paul O’Kane

Good morning to the panel. The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 was passed by the Parliament last year. The provisions of the act have not been implemented yet, but I am keen that, if we can, we revisit some of that or look forward to how it might be implemented. The act and the evidence that was given refer to the changes that are required in the food system and environment to help people access healthy food more easily. What needs to change there in order to achieve that goal?

Geoff Ogle

We have already talked about some of that this morning. For example, there are certainly issues to be addressed, such the calorie content of the out-of-home offering, reformulation and consumer information and labelling. As I recall, the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 focuses primarily on the public sector, and a lot of what we have been talking about this morning relates to the private sector. From that perspective, I would say that public sector plans must be exemplar plans and lead the way. There are all sorts of issues to do with what is offered, when it is offered and from where it is bought. When the bill was being debated in Parliament, a lot of the discussion was on local food economies.

In our evidence, we said that there should be clear objectives. We have been monitoring the Scottish dietary goals. There has been a bit of a nudge on a couple of the criteria but, by and large, we are still nowhere near hitting the Scottish dietary goals. We would still say that there need to be clear objectives for what progress can be measured against and that local plans must have some linkage to the national plan. If 32 local authorities and 14 health boards are all doing different things without at least some measure of consistency, it is hard to see how to get national progress and improvement.

However, that does not mean that every plan has to be the same, as I think I said in evidence to the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee. If you look at the circumstances in which people live, you will see that they are not the same across 32 local authorities. There must be flexibility in the plans, but there also needs to be some consistency going forward. We were clear that we thought that the Scottish dietary goals should be in there and at least feature as an objective to aim towards. That is still our view.

Heather Kelman

We have some good statistics on national targets and aims, but all the plans should be needs assessed first to determine what the local challenges and issues are in an area. If I were allowed a wish, I would like to see the plans go through the age groups. What we can do to improve school nutrition? Is it about getting more children to eat in the school rather than going across the road to the local fast food joint? It is about being clear on what the challenges are in each area and across the country and having the plan respond to those challenges.

As Geoff Ogle said, the challenges will not be the same across the country. The starting point should therefore not be the same across the country. There might be quicker gains to be had in some regions than in others. If we think about food affordability and access in some of the remote and rural areas, access to fresh fruit and veg might be a challenge, and the solution might be to encourage things such as vertical farming or under-glass farming to grow. There is an opportunity at Scotland level to look at our agriculture policy and our rural environment and think, “How do we shape those policies to help with food availability and accessibility?” Orkney is looking at having a vertical farm, which gives it opportunities to get fresh food such as lettuces that it cannot get in an affordable way.

There is a real opportunity through the plans. I look forward to working with the commissioners, when they are in place, to push our agenda about improving access to healthy affordable food.

Paul O’Kane

That is interesting. On your last point, about working to advance the agenda of Food Standards Scotland, we did not take evidence from you or from anyone on the bill. Were you disappointed that you were not specifically referred to in the legislation? Did that concern you?

Heather Kelman

Yes. I wrote to the convener of the RAINE Committee to express a degree of disappointment and to request that additional work be done to clarify the responsibilities of both public bodies and to make sure that there is clarity of governance arrangements between us on who is accountable for what. My approach has always been to collaborate, so when the commissioners are in place I will make an approach and try to develop what we call a strategic partnership. We aim for a strategic delivery partnership with partners and the other stakeholders that we are trying to influence.

I assume that those discussions are at an early stage, but do you sense a willingness to find better understanding of the roles and, perhaps, look at how that might be enacted?

Heather Kelman

I might ask Geoff Ogle how blunt I am allowed to be. I still hope for those conversations to start.

Paul O’Kane

That is useful for us as a point to follow up, because it is important that we have those connections.

I will touch on the availability and accessibility of food. In the debate, there were amendments, particularly on access to food being a right. That debate will continue, because it was not concluded in the legislation. Should we continue to look at how we can create that right and that better access?

Heather Kelman

The board’s view was that the Human Rights Act 1998 was the right place for that to sit. It should not sit separate from other rights; rights of access should be in the main act. Food is one of the fundamental requirements of life. The act got the right balance, but we need to make sure that that issue is not forgotten or overlooked as we go forward.

Thank you.

Stephanie, do you have a question on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022?

No—it is fine.

Emma, you wanted to talk about the Scottish food commission.

Emma Harper

Yes, but I have a couple of other questions first, if that is okay.

I am reading some statistics on Scotland’s agricultural output. In 2021, it contributed £3.6 billion to the economy in gross value added, according to the Food and Drink Federation Scotland. We know that there is really good animal welfare in agriculture in Scotland, and that there are direct links between our health, our climate and food production and the availability of food in Scotland. What is Food Standards Scotland’s role in promoting a healthy diet in the context of climate change and food production in Scotland so that we can achieve a balance and support our agricultural producers?

11:45  

Heather Kelman

We have just written a sustainability plan for Food Standards Scotland, which we could share with the committee, if that would be of interest. That plan shows that if people were eating closer to the “Eatwell Guide”—the national guidelines—something like 30 per cent of the carbon emissions related to food would be reduced, so the issue is very much aligned with our overall aim.

Agriculture is not our policy area, but we feel very strongly about the need to ensure that the evidence is factually correct and that people are aware of the role that meat, dairy products, cereals, locally grown food and so on play in our diet. Those foods are an important part of our diet. We make sure that we give good evidence. We try to correct some of the mis-evidence that is out there, because it is very easy to be swept along by some of the more emotional sides of “eat green”, rather than being attuned to the facts about what eating green and a sustainable diet are. Scotland’s agriculture sector plays very well into that. We have a very strong agriculture sector that produces high-quality food that is safe to eat and is produced in a very sustainable way, compared with some other parts of the world. The welfare standards are good.

We will keep going with our key theme of healthy, sustainable, affordable food and will give as much support as we can without going outwith our role as regulator of the meat industry or our food and animal feeds role. We must be careful not to stray into other people’s territory.

Geoff, do you want to add anything?

Geoff Ogle

I do not think so.

Emma Harper

Thank you. Talking of evidence and stuff like that, last week I was at a Quality Meat Scotland event in the Scottish Parliament, which was sponsored by Jim Fairlie MSP. Professor Alice Stanton gave a presentation on red meat. The red meat supply chain generates more than £2 billion annually for the Scottish economy. Professor Stanton, who is a cardiovascular pharmacologist from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, presented information to counter what has been published in The Lancet on what people’s red meat intake should be in a day—70g, which is two slices of roast meat or two sausages. She said that the information in The Lancet did not meet the criteria for proper scrutiny under the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses—PRISMA—guidelines, which relate to the global burden of disease. She suggested that the standard recommendation—70g of meat per day—which is repeated by everyone, had not been adequately researched.

Is Food Standards Scotland aware of Professor Alice Stanton’s information? Does it mean that the recommendations for red meat consumption need to be revised?

Heather Kelman

I would need to go back and check, but my understanding is that The Lancet suggested that we reduce the consumption of red meat and red meat products from the average level of 70g per day. The Lancet was advocating a more vegetarian/vegan-style diet. I have spoken to our nutrition team, and our advice on 70g of red meat per day is still evidence based, as there is still a very slight risk of colorectal cancer attached to that. However, some of the other claims that were made in that paper were not substantiated, because the evidence was not strong enough.

I had a brief meeting with Alice before the session, and we shared opinions. We felt that the “Eatwell Guide” recommendation for an average of 70g of red meat is sustainable and good, evidence-based advice. We also talked about the FSS priority—I have talked about this with Quality Meat Scotland as well—of improving the quality of red meat products and doing the reformulation that we mentioned earlier, to make sure that Scottish processed meat is of a higher nutritional standard as we go forward, and that we do not have to be so concerned about reducing the quantity of red meat products in the diet. I think that that is where the science is at the moment, but we can double-check that and get back to you.

Emma Harper

Processed meat differs from non-processed meat. We should be advocating healthier leaner cuts of beef or lamb, for instance, rather than processed meat, which contains more salt and may have other issues. Is that where we need to be good at communicating with people?

Heather Kelman

The difficulty is that red meat production requires us to use the maximum amount of meat in the animal so that it is sustainable. We have to find a healthier way of using the maximum amount of meat in animal products. At the moment, processed meats have a higher fat content and, as you mentioned, a higher salt content, as well as other additives that are not proven to be absolutely beneficial for health.

Improving the formulation of those products will help but, at the moment, 70g of red meat and meat products per day is the level that is advocated. That is where sausages and bacon come in. If we were to go straight to saying, “Don’t eat highly processed meat,” there would be a cost issue, because straightforward steak, a roast or a joint is a lot more expensive than sausages. We have to maintain a balance, but public health comes first in our discussions. The nutrition team keeps abreast of all the science and evidence.

Geoff Ogle

The “Eatwell Guide” plate went through a pretty rigorous process, including consideration of the views of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. For any scientific proposition, we would have to be satisfied. We would have to go through a pretty rigorous process to investigate any proposition that the “Eatwell Guide” plate is not where we need it to be. One of the other issues with diet is that there are lots of views around what is or is not a good diet. We use that plate as the cornerstone of our advice. The composition of food is a slightly different question, but we think that the “Eatwell Guide” plate promotes a balanced diet.

Emma Harper

I have remembered what I was going to ask about the food commission. This will be my final question. Why is a food commission proposed when we already have Food Standards Scotland? What is the difference? Why do we need both? Will there be an overlap in their work?

Heather Kelman

There is a difference in that our role is much broader. We work from farm to plate, so we have to manage regulatory responsibilities, advice and policy on food, food safety and food hygiene. There will be an overlap in the work of our nutrition team and that of the new food commission. We would not have been able to undertake the work of the emerging food commission without additional resources. The focus on supporting the development of the national plan, the 32 local authority plans and the 15 health board plans would have required more resource in order to have a quality output.

As I said before, we have asked to have discussions to clarify governance and areas of responsibility, and we hope that that will be followed up on soon, but until we have those conversations, it is difficult to be absolutely clear about exactly where we will meet or overlap and where there will be a gap.

Geoff Ogle

I add that, from our perspective, Parliament made the decision to have a food commission. Before the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 was passed, we questioned whether, from an accountable officer perspective, there was value for money in having two independent food bodies. Heather Kelman wrote to request that, if Parliament decided to go for two bodies, it should be very clear about their different accountabilities.

Our view is that we are independent and have a remit that says that we can represent the broader interests of consumers. As Heather said in her letter to Finlay Carson, we thought that we could undertake the functions that the 2022 act requires. Parliament reached its conclusion. Our focus now is on engaging to make sure that we do not duplicate our efforts and that we deliver the parliamentary intent of the 2022 act.

May I ask one final question?

Yes, but it must be a small question, because two other members want to come in before the end of the session.

Emma Harper

You talked about different local authorities and how they engage. Some local authorities are looking to sign up to the Plant Based Treaty and are talking about taking meat away from schools and care homes. Is that something that you are aware of? Would you endorse that? We have just talked about red meat and how the evidence base shows that people are required to have it as part of a balanced diet. Are you concerned about the Plant Based Treaty?

Heather Kelman

We are concerned that local authorities comply with the nutritional standards for school meals and feeding older people. I am not aware of any that have said that they are going to sign up to the Plant Based Treaty, but we would need to follow through on that. Evidence would need to be provided that they would give the alternatives. It is possible to follow a nutritionally sound vegan or plant-based diet, but it takes far more knowledge and understanding of the mix of proteins that is needed to get the quality of protein that is required for good body function. There are different kinds of amino acids, and you need them in different proportions to get the necessary quality. I would want to seek assurance that that was not going to be compromised in any way.

Thank you.

The Convener

We have about 15 minutes left. Sandesh Gulhane has some questions on food safety, after which Stephanie Callaghan wants to come in on the proposed public health (restriction of promotions) bill that has been mentioned. We might struggle to bring in any more members.

Sandesh Gulhane

I want to ask Heather Kelman a question on the back of her answers to Emma Harper. It is true that it is more expensive to buy higher-quality cuts of meat, but I feel that we might eat too much meat. Having a diet the majority of which is vegetarian, with fish and a reduced intake of meat, would allow that higher quality to be purchased. Everyone has different levels of what they are able to afford, but buying the best red meat that you can afford, once a week, would surely be better than having processed food.

Heather Kelman

I agree with everything that you have said about there not being a huge requirement for meat. Across Scotland, we are already below the average of 70g of red meat per day. The last tracker showed that it was at 60g. I would need to check the actual number, but we are already reducing our meat intake. Some people still eat a very meat-dependent diet—they are at the extreme end—but, on average across the population, we are within the target of 70g per day.

When it comes to the quality of meat, choice and including fish, some parts of Scotland struggle to get regular access to fresh fish. Fish is not the cheap food that it was when I was a child. It is quite pricey—it is sometimes more pricey than meat. Continuing to work with the meat industry to ensure that all of the animal is produced in a way that maximises the health qualities will be beneficial in allowing us to offer people the choice and range that they want. There are some groups of the population who have a greater taste for European sausages and things like that. We must not constrain choice but try to make sure that the choices that are available are healthy, nutritious and do not do damage.

Sandesh Gulhane

If we look at food logistics, we see that it is incredibly complicated to get meat from the farm to our tables. What does Food Standards Scotland do to ensure that safety and standards are maintained at every step of that incredibly complicated journey?

Heather Kelman

I will give that one to Geoff.

Geoff Ogle

The legal requirement is that the producer of the food is responsible for making sure that it is safe. That is the process. We use a variety of mechanisms, including our direct oversight on abattoir production and local authority inspections of food businesses. We also do sampling and carry out surveillance through the local authorities, and food businesses do their own sampling and surveillance.

There is a system of verification and check. Every food business is required to produce a food safety management plan, and the local authorities will inspect that plan when they do an inspection. The system is pretty robust.

12:00  

More recently, following the horse meat issue, the Food Industry Intelligence Network was set up. It is a collaboration for sharing intelligence and information about food safety issues. There are issues around import controls and checks. Depending on where you pick the point in the supply chain, there is a mechanism for verification and checking product safety but, primarily, the responsibility is for the retailers.

Aside from the official regulators, there are third-party assurance schemes such as that which is run by the British Retail Consortium, the International Featured Standards and a few others, which are also accreditation schemes and independent audit systems. We also audit local authorities to ensure that they undertake their functions as a competent authority. The network of how food safety is assured is fairly complex. As we said in the report that we produced with the FSA, there is little evidence to suggest that there are any significant threats or risks to our food safety system.

Sandesh Gulhane

When I went to the Royal Highland Show, some of the producers told me that, through their work, they can tell exactly what is in the mince and where it has come from, which is quite incredible.

I am not sure whether you will be able answer my last question, but I want to ask it. Along with food safety, food security is important. With the war in Ukraine and possible future conflicts on the horizon, I am incredibly concerned about whether we can ensure food security in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Is that an area that you are working on? Can you ensure that food security?

Geoff Ogle

There are a couple of things in that. Under the UK Government’s Agriculture Act 2020, I think, the secretary of state is required to produce a food security report every five years, and we fed into that for the first year.

In response to the war in Ukraine, Mairi Gougeon, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, set up the short-life food security and supply task force, and one of its recommendations was for the Scottish Government to set up a food security unit, which we feed into and work with. In the discussions that we have had—with New Zealand, for example—there has been a general raising of awareness of the importance of food security for most nations, so it has gone up the agenda significantly.

Food security means different things to different people, and the challenges around food security are different depending on where you live. Take Scotland and its natural geography, for example: you will not suddenly be able to increase your wheat production, for example. The food security challenges are different for each country, and there is a general view that we need to make sure that we are on it. The food security unit in the Scottish Government has the lead, and we feed into it.

Heather Kelman

It is not just about potential conflict. Climate change affecting different parts of the world could also impact on our food supply. Last summer, Mediterranean countries had very high temperatures, and a lot of our fresh fruit and vegetables come from those countries. A multitude of issues needs to be considered. The Scottish Food Commission has an opportunity to look at promoting more local food across Scotland.

Geoff Ogle

Alongside all that is the increased risk of potential food crime: the risk of substitution and adulteration to maintain profit in the face of pressure in the system. Someone could use an alternative cheaper ingredient, claim that it is the original ingredient and charge the same price. It is those sorts of things. We are looking for that, but we have not seen any evidence of it. It is one of those consequences that have arisen that we need to understand and be alive to.

We had a session with Paul O’Kane, and we have offered do a session on what we are doing on food crime and intelligence for this committee and the RAINE Committee. For obvious reasons, that would be a private session. We can pick that up and cover it separately in that.

Heather Kelman

We have also just introduced a food health research programme. We are looking at research and are working with the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes to look at emerging sources of new proteins, et cetera. There is quite a breadth of activity going on around future food.

As promised, we move to our final theme and to questions from Stephanie Callaghan on the Public Health (Restriction of Promotions) Bill.

Stephanie Callaghan

I have a couple of questions. We have already spoken about obesity, complexities around it and links to poverty, energy prices and so on. I am conscious of the time, so a short answer would be quite good, if possible. To what extent do you expect the bill to address obesity levels and protect public health?

Geoff Ogle

The bill is important in helping to shift and change the food environment. The bill alone will not be the only solution to that, but it is an important one. Promotions are important, so it will require some kind of deep analysis of the business models that are being used. That is the right thing to do, and it is what it should be doing. Going back to the point that I made about out-of-home offerings and general issues around high fat, salt and sugar, I will say that this is an important bill that will help to make a difference.

Stephanie Callaghan

The focus of the bill is clearly on influencing individuals’ behaviour or restricting access, but there is a need to address things at a wider level, as well. For example, one of my local councils looked at community access to school kitchens in the evenings, which would provide cooking skills and hot nutritious food, as well as help with isolation. That is just an example. I know that there are complexities around it, but that does not mean that we should not attempt to do such things. In the very broadest terms, what other legislation or policy initiatives might be helpful for improving people’s food choices and protecting public health? I am not sure who wants to answer that.

Geoff Ogle

I have a little bit of an answer, and I will let Heather pick up on the ideas. You gave an example, and, earlier, we had a discussion on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 and local plans. There is no restriction on innovation at local level in what can be done. There is a pretty good local authority network. We have COSLA and SOLACE, so there are mechanisms whereby local authorities can, at strategic level, share their ideas and innovations. Things such as the good food nation plan mean that nothing is off the table with what the local opportunity might be. As we said, the challenge is ensuring that we have the balance between what you might want to do at aggregate macro level and what you might need to do at local level and making sure that we get a balance in opportunity. I will pass over to Heather to talk about ideas.

Heather Kelman

Geoff mentioned our disappointment that the sugar levy applied only to soft drinks. I would like that to be revisited and consideration given to whether other levies could be allocated across other food groups. That levy had a degree of success not just in affecting the price of higher-sugar drinks but in bringing down the average level of sugar content in soft drinks. I would like that to be rolled out, because, when we speak to big retailers, they say that when it comes to their own-brand products—the non-brand store products—they have already brought down the levels in some of the high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar items, but they are not seeing the same process happening with the branded products. Something that would nudge the reformulation agenda a little bit further along would be very helpful.

It would be good to bring together our initiatives on community development—the whole approach that says that community development and empowerment is good for wellbeing—that reach into healthy eating and increase people’s cooking and shopping skills. We need a cross-agenda approach in which we do not just look at food as food but look at, as I mentioned earlier, agriculture policy, what we do in schools and what we do under community development and bring those together.

In my opinion, the biggest public health problem that Scotland faces is the impact of diet on life expectancy, treatment of disease, economic success and people being absent from work. It is hugely important that we address that, and it is not a single-item agenda. It cuts across food availability, food education and the whole range of things. I would like that to be considered for all aspects of Scottish policy. It might not be completely relevant, but, if people think about it and there is an opportunity to improve the food environment, I would be very grateful.

Stephanie Callaghan

I want to pick up on your point about supermarket-branded products not following suit. We have a situation in which, for example, the cheapest own-brand cereals are not fortified with nutrients in the same way as some of the leading brands or the more expensive own-brand products are. Has that come up at all in conversation?

Heather Kelman

I would need to check my facts on that. Some of those fortifications are going to be looked at again because of folic acid supplementation. If you do not mind, I will talk to the nutrition team about that. I thought that most cereals were fortified.

It would be great if you could come back to us with that information.

Geoff Ogle

We will check that, but my understanding is that compositional change has been mainly to the salt and sugar content.

The Convener

Thank you very much for everything that you have told us today. It feeds into the health inequalities work that we are already undertaking.

That concludes the public part of our meeting today. We move into private session.

12:12 Meeting continued in private until 12:34.