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Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 23, 2021


Linking Food and Climate Change

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-01310, in the name of Foysol Choudhury, on linking food and climate change at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament considers that COP26 is a key opportunity for placing food and local action at the heart of the response to the climate emergency; notes the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration from the partners, Nourish Scotland and IPES-Food, which is a commitment by subnational governments to tackle the climate emergency through integrated food policies and a call on national governments to act; commends those local authorities in Scotland that have signed the Glasgow Declaration to date, including the City of Edinburgh Council; believes that a resilient food system approach would target all the sustainable development goals to accelerate climate action while delivering many co-benefits, including the promotion of biodiversity, ecosystem regeneration and resilience, circularity, equity, access to healthy and sustainable diets for all, and the creation of resilient livelihoods for farm and food workers; understands that global food systems account for one third of emissions and are at the heart of many major challenges today, including biodiversity loss and enduring hunger and malnutrition; celebrates the significant signatories from five continents that have already made their commitment to accelerating climate action via local food system transformation, and considers that the road from the Paris Agreement to COP26 has to go through the farm gate.


Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

The eyes of the world were on us here in Scotland recently, as COP26 took place in Glasgow. Parliamentarians, world leaders, campaigners, and civil society activists were all gathered together with a commitment to tackle climate change, and it was a privilege for me to be able to attend some of the events associated with COP26.

There is no doubt that everyone has a part to play in response to the climate emergency, and in this debate I hope to highlight some of the commitments in the Glasgow food and climate declaration. The declaration brings together local authorities of all types and sizes, from small and medium-sized towns to mega-cities, districts and regions, territories, federal states and provinces, to speak with one voice in renewing their commitments to develop sustainable food policies, promoting mechanisms for joined-up action and calling on national Governments to put food and farming at the heart of the global response to the climate emergency.

The declaration was developed by Nourish Scotland in partnership with the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems—IPES-Food, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the global network ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainability, the under2 coalition, C40, the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and many others. It was presented in Glasgow city chambers during COP26.

I commend City of Edinburgh Council and West Lothian Council as two of the Lothian region local authorities that have signed up to the declaration. On behalf of West Lothian Council, as one of the most recent signatories, Councillor Kirsteen Sullivan emphasised to me how the declaration builds on strong partnership work with the West Lothian Food Network, which is committed to removing the barriers to accessing food, as well as the recently agreed “West Lothian Food Growing Strategy 2020-2025”, which looks at how food is grown in local communities. Integrated food policies and strategies will be key tools in the fight against climate change, and I know that other members will be able to give accounts from their own regions of the steps that are being taken in that regard.

The Scottish Government is also to be commended for becoming the lead signatory to the Glasgow food and climate declaration. The Scottish Government, and a growing number of Scottish local authorities, are among around 100 current signatories to the declaration, alongside regions such as Coimbra in Portugal, Catalonia in Spain and Cross River State in Nigeria; cities such as Sao Paulo, London, Washington, Paris, Vienna, Milan, Quito and Vancouver; and, most recently, the Government of Honduras. I am pleased to be able to bring the declaration and all that it stands for, to the chamber.

Looking at the decisions taken at COP26, we should note that, although important progress was made in many areas, food systems were not on the presidency agenda, despite accounting for around 30 per cent of global emissions. The COP26 agreements included some commitments on farming: 45 countries pledged urgent action on making farming more sustainable, there were commitments on methane, and signatories promised to invest in green agricultural practices and protecting nature. The United Kingdom Government stated that it is aiming for 75 per cent of farmers to engage in low-carbon practices by 2030, while Germany promised to lower emissions from land use by 25 million tonnes by the same year. It would be helpful if the minister could indicate how the Scottish Government will support Scottish farming to achieve the goals set out by the UK Government.

There are many examples around Scotland of the efforts being made to tackle climate change. One of the award winners at the recent RSPB nature of Scotland awards has been brought to my attention, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them. The winner of the food and farming award, which is sponsored by the James Hutton Institute, was Kinclune organic nature farm in Angus. The focus of the award is to demonstrate that it is in the power of Scottish farmers to farm their way out of the biodiversity crisis by placing environmental and biodiversity considerations at the heart of management decisions.

The food system is hugely complex, so joined-up food policies are essential to the delivery of many different goals: dignified access to good food for all, restoring nature on land and in the sea, improving health, tackling climate change, creating good jobs throughout the supply chain and building stronger communities. The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill that has been introduced to Parliament could lay the foundation for that joined-up food policy in Scotland, although it needs to be strengthened.

The cross-party support for the right to food bill, which was proposed by Elaine Smith MSP in the previous session and has been proposed again by my colleague Rhoda Grant, also shows the support for taking action now.

As the rest of the economy decarbonises, food systems will account for an increasing proportion of Scottish and global emissions, and we can expect food to be higher up the agenda at COP27. Given Scotland’s leadership role in the under2 coalition of subnational governments, I would encourage the Scottish Government to promote the Glasgow food and climate declaration over the next 12 months of the UK presidency.

In the lead-up to COP27 in Egypt, let us match the global action with a strong rights-based Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill at home. A national food plan can be effective only if local food plans are developed too, and I hope for an assurance that local authorities will be involved in developing any national food plan. Far more support needs to be provided for our local authorities to take the steps needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from urban and regional food systems. I look forward to hearing from the minister about the steps that will be taken across Scotland to turn the commitments in the Glasgow food and climate declaration into a reality.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on linking food and climate change, and I congratulate Foysol Choudhury on securing it. It is clear that the aims of the Paris agreement and the COP26 Glasgow declaration cannot be reached without addressing food systems.

Farmers are at the front line of climate change. They experience the effects of extreme and unpredictable weather. They can be—and are—a huge part of the solution to tackle the climate emergency and support food security.

Producing food and drink sustainably means rearing, growing and processing them in a way that helps preserve and protect the environment for future generations. During the Parliament’s festival of politics this year, I chaired an event called “Will vegans really save the planet?”, which explored sustainable food production and the role of our diet in tackling the climate emergency. It highlighted a University of Oxford report that concluded that the food system is globally responsible for a third of all greenhouse gases, and it also explored whether reducing the amount of meat and dairy consumed helped to reduce agriculture’s environmental impact.

One of the conclusions from the event was that a vegan diet and the use of meat substitutes can involve intensive water use, can lead to a high number of air miles as a result of flying certain products such as avocados across the globe and can significantly contribute to deforestation. A key message for consumers was that procuring food sustainably means buying it from producers who minimise their impact on the environment—for example, by reducing their carbon emissions—and support the longevity of the industry. That is why it is so important to support schemes such as Scotland Loves Local and shop local, and local farmers markets such as those in Moffat, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Wigtown and the newly established market in Stranraer. I thank all those who support such initiatives. It was also clear from the event that a vegan diet is not the sole solution to tackling the climate emergency and that supporting our agriculture businesses to be sustainable is crucial, too.

I welcome the steps that are being taken by the Scottish Government to support our agricultural sector’s transition to net zero. I am also aware that it is moving forward with a successor to the common agriculture policy that will guide farming, food production and land use for the future, and I would welcome comments or an update from the minister on timescales in that respect. I also want to mention the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill, which Foysol Choudhury referred to, which proposes local and sustainable food production, and the formation of the agricultural sustainability working group, led by the president of NFU Scotland, Martin Kennedy, both of which are welcome steps in tackling the global climate emergency.

I briefly want to highlight local action by constituents: Chris Nicholson, chair of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association; Colin Ferguson, the Dumfries and Galloway chair of the NFUS; Machars beef and sheep farmers Kenny Adams and William Moses; and film-makers Willeke Van Rijn and Julia Farrington. The group have created an informative short film to coincide with COP26 called “Talking With Farmers: Farming and Climate Change in the Machars”, which can be found on YouTube. It highlights the importance of supporting and engaging with farmers to tackle the climate emergency, and it provides insight into and some solutions for the custodians of our land. I encourage members to watch it and commend all involved in making it, and I look forward to engaging with them to learn how we promote food sustainability and tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

I was struck by William Moses’s statement in the film that

“If we look after our soil, it will look after us.”

I want to add to that comment by saying that we need to do that to ensure that we in Scotland can sustainably produce and provide what is recognised across the world as world-class food produced to the some of the best welfare standards, and to support an approach that helps to achieve the sustainable development goals.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I, too, thank Foysol Choudhury for securing this debate and for once again giving me the opportunity to discuss the importance of food production, food processing and food procurement and the links with nutrition, health, education and climate change.

I have to say that this feels a wee bit like groundhog day. I have been talking about this particular topic for the past five years, and it is disappointing to see how little progress we have actually made in that time. I have long championed the local processing and procurement of food. We charge our farmers with producing the highest-quality food, give them custodianship of the countryside, charge them with paying the living wage and ensure that they have the highest animal welfare levels, but when it comes to public procurement, we fall down. We do not seem to recognise that a cost is associated with ensuring that our farmers produce high-quality food.

Early in the previous session, I did a study of where all the food in our councils and hospitals came from, and I discovered that, through the Scottish Government’s central Scotland Excel contract, only 16 per cent of that food came from Scotland. I am redoing that investigation to see whether anything has moved on in the past five years. We should highlight that that is completely possible. We all know, as we have talked about this before, that East Ayrshire Council is the gold standard on that. It procures along the lines of 75 per cent of its food for schools locally. It can even tell us which farm the eggs came from.

The reality is that we import far too much of our food. As Emma Harper said, the development of products such as soya, palm oil and almond products is hugely damaging to our climate and to biodiversity, because swathes of land have to be cleared for that.

Does Brian Whittle agree that it takes around 136 litres of water to make 1 litre of almond milk?

Brian Whittle

I love it when Ms Harper pre-empts what I am about to say. That is exactly right. When land is cleared for the production of almond, it is so water intensive. That is one of the worst things for biodiversity that there can be. There are then the air miles to import the products into this country.

I also mentioned palm oil, which is a hugely contributory factor to obesity in Scotland.

Our farmers have been innovating towards net zero. NFU Scotland has a target ahead of the Scottish Government target of 2040 and it is doing some incredible work, which I have seen on the farms, on the journey towards that target. Farmers are reducing the amount of ploughing that they have to do. Ploughing releases carbon into the atmosphere. NFU Scotland is innovating ahead of the game. The best crop on 85 per cent of the farmland in Scotland is grass. Grass-fed livestock are the original circular economy. The sequestration of carbon in grass is much greater than it is in woodland, for example.

We have to be careful about allowing a noisy minority to lump all global farming practices together and talking down our farmers. We should be exporting knowledge about the way that our farmers produce food to other countries. That is how we will tackle climate change. When we talk about global meat production, that does not give us the whole picture. We have a farmer here in Parliament who will, I hope, back me up on that.

The practices in the United States, South America and the far east differ hugely from the ways in which our farmers produce food. That is how we need to be. Food can be produced in an environmentally friendly way. We need to champion our farmers and their efforts to drive towards net zero.

I realise that I have been speaking for four and a half minutes already, Presiding Officer. I will get there.

On food processing, we send too much food outside our borders to be packaged. Let us push local food production, support our farmers, and develop local processing. Public procurement should always take Scottish food wherever possible. There would then be a positive impact on climate change, the health of our nation, and the rural economy. What a breakthrough joined-up thinking would be.

Time flies indeed.


Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

It is a great pleasure to speak in this members’ business debate. I thank my friend Foysol Choudhury for bringing the debate to Parliament and for tackling such an important problem—I am going to use that word—that Scotland faces. It is also a great pleasure to follow Brian Whittle, who made so much of what I was going to point out. I will merely echo some of the elements of what he said and, I hope, carry on to small parts that he missed out.

In talking about farming and food, Brian Whittle said that our farmers are the custodians of this country. That is fundamentally important and, unfortunately, it is frequently forgotten. I think back to my time as a primary school teacher, when I always looked forward to visiting our farmers and watching the faces of young people understanding, in some cases, where potatoes and carrots came from and the more excited faces of those who discovered that the jobs that sit in our farms are not all muddy, cold and wet ones; there are highly technical information technology jobs in which people look after the software that drives the tractors and the satellite navigation. In fact, I know two individuals who were so taken by their journey to a farm that they changed what they wanted to do to science, technology, engineering and mathematics—STEM—subjects. One of them has ended up working on a farm and thoroughly enjoys working not with a tractor or a spade but with a robotic flying device that plucks out the weeds in the farm.

I raise that because it is one end of farming. At the other end, there are still farmers who travel out every day and labour. However, farming has changed much in the past 20 years and it is good to see the NFUS, through its members, throwing itself fully behind a net zero future. Farmers do that not from hope, as people sometimes think, but because, from their knowledge and understanding of the countryside, they know that they can achieve it.

I congratulate our farmers and urge the Government to listen, as it says it does, to the NFUS and its members. In particular, I urge it to listen to the individual voices from unique farms that need unique support to allow them to make the necessary changes.

I will offer a small tale from a few years ago that feeds into the concept of food processing. In East Lothian, there was a farm that grew Brussels sprouts—it still does. Just before Christmas, its Brussels sprouts travelled all the way to Poland to receive a cross in the bottom of them, get packaged up and then come all the way back to be sold in a well-known supermarket that overlooked the field in which they were grown. The farmer was stunned that, due to regulation and finance, that was the only way that he could make his crop make money.

That relates to the point that Brian Whittle raised about how we can localise not only the growth and distribution of our food but its purchase through our schools, hospitals and local authorities. We can start to make the same virtuous circle that our cows have achieved through 300,000 years of evolution.

I will mention a seafood-related group that is raised in respect of the topic of the debate: the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, which supports low-impact and sustainable development of our local seas. I ask the minister to comment on whether there should be a protective circle around Scottish waters to stop trawling, which is damaging the creel fishermen’s future.


Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I congratulate Foysol Choudhury on securing this vital debate.

At COP26, the Scottish Government joined the 50x30 coalition, recognising the necessity of cutting emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. Agriculture and food systems will play a crucial role in that effort. I commend the Government on signing up to the 4 per 1,000 initiative, which aims to boost carbon storage in agricultural soils and reduce the global carbon footprint.

Soil is where it all begins. Healthy agricultural soils have huge potential to store carbon. As 80 per cent of Scotland’s land is used for agriculture, we should maximise that nature-based solution through better soil management.

Soils play a crucial role in storing water, which prevents flooding. That will become even more important as we feel the increased impact of climate change.

Healthy soils produce nutritious, flavoursome and filling food. That is why, when considering food and climate change, we need to start from the ground up. We must develop a holistic policy that shapes and supports the entire system from soil management to regenerative farming techniques, local food supply chains and access to good-quality food, all of which will benefit nature, the climate and wellbeing.

Here are some steps that Scotland should take, starting with improving soil health.

By developing a national nitrogen strategy, we can end the excessive use of inorganic fertiliser, reduce air and water pollution, improve soil heath and slash greenhouse gases. We should set a bold target: 25 per cent by 2025 for organic public procurement would incentivise farmers to shift to organic production and help us to reach our target of at least doubling the area of land that is under organic management during this parliamentary session.

Moving from soil to wider land use, we need to find the right balance for how land is used for food production, carbon absorption, nature restoration, renewable energy infrastructure and housing. Agriculture and nature restoration do not always have to compete. The nature restoration fund should benefit farmers and crofters who contribute to nature corridors. Many farmers, crofters and growers, such as Phil and Laura from the Wildlife Croft on Skye, are starting to practice agroforestry, whereby trees and agriculture co-exist. However, they found that the current crofting grant system and agricultural payments do not support it, despite the co-benefits for food production, soil health and climate biodiversity.

Will the member take an intervention?

Certainly, Finlay, I will take an intervention.

Full names, please. Finlay Carson.

Will you tell members how long it takes for a farmer to transition to becoming an organic farmer, and how the loss in production during that time would be compensated?

Please speak through the chair, Finlay Carson.

Ariane Burgess

As we have heard in the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, it takes a considerable amount of time to transition. That is why we are only calling for the 1.8 per cent of land that is currently under organic production to be at least doubled. We want to go far; therefore, based on conversations that I have been having with people from the NFUS, I am calling for incentivisation in order to point farmers in that direction.

We must change the incentives to support our food producers to adopt climate and nature-friendly practices, and we must start offering that support as soon as possible. The agriculture bill will be a once-in-a-multigeneration opportunity to reshape food production. The Government has said that 50 per cent of the new support payments will be conditional on providing environmental benefits. That is encouraging, but the percentage that is conditional could be increased. However, before that, we need greater investment in a just transition for agriculture to support those who produce the food that sustains us. I encourage the Government to establish an advisory service to provide training and advice, support pilot programmes and knowledge transfer, and scale up good practice.

The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill should spell out the vision for a good food nation and include outcomes that the plan should help to deliver, including food systems that promote ecological regeneration, alignment with climate targets and empowerment through food education and community food production.

In this parliamentary session, we can transform our food system. Let us place soil, land use and nutritious food at the heart of the response to our climate emergency.


Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Foysol Choudhury on bringing the debate to the chamber.

We have a great deal to be proud of in the way in which food production has evolved in Scotland, and we have a strong future to look forward to. The world wants our products—I know that from personal experience. In Scotland, we have always been innovative in that regard. As the world moves away from high-yield, low-quality meats to more environmentally friendly options, the long history of sustainability in the Scottish beef herd will put our products at the heart of a high-quality, low-yield, carbon-neutral farming future.

In Scotland, we also have a great history in aquaculture. Farmed fish makes up half of global fish consumption, and that proportion is projected to grow. We have expertise and an excellent product to sell to the world. Despite fearmongering, the sector still represents a huge part of Scotland’s food exports. Therefore, what is the minister doing to encourage and support the aquaculture sector?

The same variety of issues come up when we look at the Scottish Government’s attitude to the use of gene-editing technology in crops. Recently, a gene that is responsible for drought resistance in barley crops was found. It is a defence against the effects of climate change. Last year, the European cereal crop was badly affected by a lack of water, and gene-editing technology offers a solution—yet we remain closed minded to gene-edited crops. That is a wholly mistaken attitude. When will the minister review that retrograde, anti-science policy? I already know the answer to that question because, just minutes before I stood up to speak, I received a written response from the minister to a question similar to this. She basically says, “When our masters in Brussels tell us we can do it.” That is pretty disappointing.

I have had a series of disappointments with parliamentary questions. It has emerged that the Scottish Government was not supporting any aquaponics projects. That is a type of food production that mixes fish farming and the growing of crops. It is efficient, as it recycles nutrients within a closed system. Similarly, the Scottish Government has not considered any recent projects on vertical farming, which is a way of growing food that reduces the need for low-paid seasonal workers in the food production sector and reduces land use. That will be essential as we move towards rewilding and more forestry in Scotland.

I know that those issues are subject to an on-going review, but what, in Scotland today, is not subject to on-going review? Sometimes, in government, you have to make decisions. Will the minister update us on the progress of the review and tell us what actions the Government plans to take to support innovation?

In a country where the average age of farmers is now 59, we know that there is a huge challenge ahead of us in producing enough food to feed a growing global population. We know that that challenge is made more difficult from the need to reduce carbon emissions. We know that land use will change fundamentally as a result of climate change. Therefore, innovation is key, in this area as in so many other areas, in response to the call for us to become net zero in terms of carbon emissions.

Farms need to diversify but, too often in Scotland, that has meant opening up a glamping pod or getting a grant to rewild the land. All of that is worthy, but how are we to feed ourselves when farms are turned over to custodianship? The Scottish Government must stand alongside Scotland’s farmers and must be open to innovation.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will. I was on my last three words but, if it is all right with you, Presiding Officer, I am happy to have Jim Fairlie intervene.

I can give you the time back. Jim Fairlie should be brief.

Jim Fairlie

I thank Mr Kerr for taking this intervention. I am confused: he is asking, if I understand him correctly, when the Scottish Government will give production priority. The United Kingdom Government has already said that its entire support system will be based around access to land and transferring to environmental uses, whereas the Scottish Government has already said that food production will be 50 per cent of the policy that it is developing. We are committed to producing food in this country; the UK Government is committed to going into the environmental side of things, which we have been doing for generations. I just do not understand Mr Kerr’s logic or where he went with that point.

Stephen Kerr

I am happy to have taken that intervention, but it would come a lot better from a member of the Scottish National Party if it came up with some proposals about the future of farm payments. At least the UK Government has produced something that has been debated and discussed, with a process that is on-going. In this Parliament, on the other hand, we have heard nothing. [Interruption.]

Would the member like to intervene?

Does Stephen Kerr agree that farmers cannot meet the climate change objectives with an SNP Government that cuts agri-environmental climate change funding?

Stephen Kerr

There is a world of difference between the rhetoric of the SNP Government and what it actually does and delivers in terms of outcomes. That is why I call on the minister to respond to my invitation to her and her colleagues to stand up, to stand alongside Scotland’s farmers, to be open to innovation and to embrace science. How about being pro-science and pro-free trade?


Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I, too, thank Foysol Choudhury for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

The global food system is not only a victim of climate change; it is one of the world’s main polluters. WWF has said that

“Food production is one of the biggest threats to our planet”.

It has a point—food systems are responsible for 60 per cent of global nature loss and more than one third of total greenhouse gas emissions.

COP26 rightly focused on important topics such as deforestation and emissions, but I was disappointed that the impact of food systems on climate change was less prominent. Fortunately, food was on the menu during many of the round-table discussions, and although food presents a threat with regard to climate change, it presents global opportunities, too. As Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council noted recently,

“Food is the point where climate change and health come together.”

That connection between food systems, climate change and inequality is why I will always champion Scotland becoming a good food nation.

Will the member take an intervention?

Stephanie Callaghan

Things were getting a bit heated, so I will not, at the moment.

For me, the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration was a significant output from COP26, placing food and local action at the heart of our climate emergency response. Almost 90 subnational Governments have signed up to the declaration, which seeks to tackle the climate emergency through developing integrated food policies.

Scotland is one of the signatories to the Glasgow declaration, and I am delighted that South Lanarkshire Council is one of seven Scottish local authorities to sign up to it. That is great news for Uddingston and Bellshill residents across my constituency.

Beyond the Glasgow declaration, our Scottish Government has in train a series of interventions that provide opportunities to transform our food systems and respond to our environmental challenge. Central to the Government’s response is the overarching Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill, which will see national and local government creating good food nation plans, which will deliver local responses that are underpinned by national policy imperatives. Although supporting the environment is key, there are broader benefits to health, social and economic wellbeing.

I share the anxiety of many climate activists that COP26 has been big on promises but less clear on delivery. It is vital that nations transparently report on progress as food systems are redesigned, and I welcome the Scottish Government’s intention to publish progress reports against our good food nation plan every two years. COP26 activists rightly highlighted that transparency is critical to accelerating responses to combat climate change.

By continuing to work collaboratively with our world-class farming sector—Scottish farming is rightly renowned for its sustainable approach—we can co-produce solutions that provide us all with affordable access to local produce. With Scotland’s strong foundations, we can reimagine our food system. Harvesting more local, organic and plant-based produce is achievable. I trust that we can harness our collective will, and reputation for innovation, to make that happen.

School students from across Lanarkshire have already lobbied me about the lack of sustainable vegetarian and vegan options in school canteens. I hear them and I agree with them. We must work harder to increase balanced plant-based food options and to offer more local produce.

As discussed at COP26, the Scottish Government is delivering policies and interventions that place food at the heart of our responses to tackle inequalities. Extending free school meals and best start food grants confirms Scotland’s focus on improving peoples’ wellbeing, while reducing harmful emissions and nature loss. Our councils are already spending around £65 million a year on food supplies.

COP26 can either be a turning point for how our global food system works, or it can turn out to be nothing more than a two-week jamboree for world leaders and celebrities. We owe it to our grandchildren—and their children—that it is the former. I look forward to Scotland leading the global response as a good food nation.


Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

It is a real pleasure to join the debate, and I congratulate my friend Foysol Choudhury from the Lothian region on securing a discussion on the issue at this apt moment.

I am very proud that Glasgow gives its name to the declaration, which is so vital for the survival of mankind. It is also a great opportunity for our collective economic potential. It is often overlooked that this is not about making a sacrifice but about realising entrepreneurial spirit and a potential opportunity for our cities and regions across the world.

Colleagues have already rehearsed many of the issues to do with waste. Although that is apparent in our society, when we realise the sheer scale of the problem, it is staggering: the UK alone produces 36 million of tonnes of greenhouse gasses from food waste out of a total of 1.3 billion tonnes that is produced globally each year. Waste also has financial and economic costs. In the UK, businesses, homes and food manufacturers throw away 9.5 million tonnes of food a year, which is worth £19 billion. What an amazing opportunity there is to address that and at the same time to contain emissions.

Brian Whittle

I am grateful to the member for taking an intervention, because I have been trying to get in for ages.

A third of the world’s food is going to waste and food waste accounts for between 8 and 10 per cent of global emissions—if it were a country, it would be the third highest carbon emitter, after the USA and China. Does the member agree that it seems ridiculous that, at a time when we have such food poverty, we are not joining up the dots and reducing that kind of waste?

Paul Sweeney

Absolutely. It is a really striking method of describing the issue to say that, if food waste were a country, it would be the third highest emitter in the world. It is true that we have no global institutional capacity to recognise where surpluses and deficits are occurring and to address them. The international community must take that issue much more into cognisance.

It is sometimes hard to reconcile the macro or global level of this discussion and the effects with how we can meaningfully adjust matters more locally. It is important that the declaration was made in Glasgow, because practical steps are being taken in the city to address the issue. It is worth exploring those opportunities in more detail. It is often said that we have to think globally but act locally, and this issue is a very good example of where that applies.

During COP26, I joined Glasgow businesses that were launching the Plate up for Glasgow campaign, which was piloted by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce through its Circular Glasgow initiative and funded by Experience Glasgow’s food and drink regional group. The event was hosted and led by Giovanna Eusebi of Eusebi Deli, which is one of Glasgow’s great restaurants. One of the amazing things that Eusebi’s has been doing is to promote the tradition of southern Italy, where people would never throw things away and it would actually be seen as sacrilege to throw food away. Because of the poverty of some of the communities there and the scarcity of food, it is treated as precious. The abundance of food in our rich society has often led to our having a very wasteful attitude. It is important that we try to bring that culture of southern Italy into our behaviours. There is the idea of adjusting portion sizes.

The campaign is about Glasgow restaurants recognising that they are likely to throw away £10,000-worth of food a year. Businesses need to adjust and try to reuse as many ingredients as possible to minimise waste. At the launch, I had a great insight into how businesses can adjust, reduce their costs and improve their efficiency and competitiveness, as well as reduce waste.

There is also the idea of a circular economy. Glasgow’s parks have had a budget cut of 70 per cent in the past 10 years. There is 5,115 acres of parkland in Glasgow. If we can start to cultivate that land—certainly not all of it, but a significantly larger share of it—we could grow more food locally and earn money commercially in the city by selling the product to local restaurants. That could help to create a sustainable model for the management of Glasgow’s parks. That is another example of how, rather than having a dependency model in which we have to cut things and continually retrench, we can have a more entrepreneurial approach in which we manage public assets such as parkland so that we realise income from them and create a more sustainable circular economy in the city.

I commend Plate up for Glasgow for what it is trying to achieve in the city. I urge members to have a look at the website, which is It is really great to see how we can take that global impact and adjust it to local policies that can potentially make a big difference.


The Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform (Màiri McAllan)

It has been great to hear the debate. As others have done, I thank Foysol Choudhury for lodging this important motion, and I also thank all the members who have taken part.

Lots of good ideas have been shared. As is the nature of discussions that pertain to climate change and the environment, we have touched on many aspects of the economy and society, and so it should be. There has been some consensus, which is good. There has been a lot of posturing and faux outrage from members on the Tory benches, which is deeply ironic, given that it was their chums in Westminster who, in post-Brexit trade deals, have undercut, undermined and, crucially, ignored the calls—indeed, the pleas—from Scottish farmers. The Tories ought to be ashamed of themselves for that.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Màiri McAllan

I want to make progress but, if the member wants to come in later, I would be glad to take an intervention.

It is hard to overstate how important food systems are to us all. Food sustains us, through the nutrition and energy that it provides; it also connects us with our culture, our history and our land. It plays a crucial role in our economy and it will be a key theme in our journey to net zero, as members said.

Our having COP26 in Scotland was an immense opportunity for the country. We are not yet a state negotiator, but as a subnational host Government we were provided with a unique opportunity to showcase our world-leading action and, perhaps more important, to learn from others around the world about the action that they are taking, including on food systems.

The Glasgow food and climate declaration unites signatories around a pledge to accelerate the development of integrated food policies, and—this is crucial—calls on national authorities, which so often hold the tools and funding that is required in this context, to take action to ensure that food policy is aligned with credible and tangible change.

The Scottish Government has long valued the role of food in our national wellbeing, in our economy and in the very fabric of our society. That is why we were so proud to be the first Government to sign the Glasgow pledge and demonstrate our whole-hearted commitment to the joined-up approach for which it calls.

I take this opportunity to thank Nourish Scotland, which was one of the key partners—if not the key partner—in drafting the Glasgow declaration. The fact that so many Governments have signed up to the pledge is a testament to its hard work.

We are proud that the project began in Scotland. I welcome the consensus across the Parliament and the support for the project, which the Scottish Government is pleased to get behind. Recognition of that is welcome and I again thank Foysol Choudhury for giving us the opportunity to discuss it.

Of course, it is not just for Governments to take action; the public sector alone could never take on this challenge. Business has an important part to play. During COP26, on 9 November, Scotland Food & Drink launched its net zero commitment and plan to unite industry. The partnership’s plan consists of five long-term commitments, which are underpinned by practical interventions.

Finlay Carson

Gene editing techniques allow for the development of new crops more quickly, which is essential if we are to mitigate the challenges that are posed by climate change. The James Hutton Institute, which is often quoted in the Parliament and is part of the work that the Government is doing, has welcomed plans by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to pave the way for the enablement of gene editing technologies in England.

Gene editing can unlock benefits for nature and the environment and it can help farmers to develop crops that have enhanced resistance to pests, disease and the extreme weather conditions that we are likely to experience in the future. Why does the minister oppose the approach? She is basing her decision not on scientific evidence but on an obsession with keeping pace with the European Union.

Will you tell us why you will not consider the Government’s position, which will ultimately damage Scotland’s ability to innovate and use facilities such as the James Hutton Institute, which is world leading and should be at the forefront of tackling the implications of climate change?

I will not tell you anything, Mr Carson, but I will ask the minister to respond to your intervention.

Màiri McAllan

I am happy to respond. First, I assure the member that we do not take decisions in the absence of scientific advice. We take scientific advice all the time.

I am very clear about the progress on gene editing and about the judicial reasoning that is coming out of the EU on separation from gene modification. The subject is important and I am following it closely, but the Scottish Government’s position on gene modification has not changed at this stage—

And will not, at least not until Brussels—

Màiri McAllan

We are talking about the leading body on environmental protection; I think that we would do well to follow the EU in that regard.

The motion rightly asserts that our journey to net zero must go through the farm gate. Scottish farmers and producers are central to driving that agenda. Our agriculture reform implementation oversight board, which is co-chaired by Martin Kennedy and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, is working hard to find out and plan how we can support farming and food production in Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

Brian Whittle

Scotland is the unhealthiest nation in Europe, but we produce some of the highest-quality food in the world. An issue that drives me is that those two issues are not being joined together through the public procurement process, which has been the case for the past five years. What plans does the Government have to join up those dots?

Màiri McAllan

I am happy to explain. On procurement, I am sure that Brian Whittle is already aware of the figures, but I will provide them for the sake of others in the chamber. Scottish products are estimated to account for around 48 per cent of public sector spend. The figure was 34 per cent in 2007, so it is increasing, albeit that work has to be done.

I hope that the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill, which acknowledges that Scotland has an incredible natural larder, will tackle the problem that Brian Whittle describes—that too many people are not able to access the nutritious value of the food that is produced in Scotland.

I was talking about supporting farmers and crofters to meet more of our own food needs sustainably and to farm and croft with nature. Make no mistake: finding solutions to the problems that are posed by climate change will require action at all levels. We aim to learn from different communities, organisations and individuals who are already building local food systems through innovative approaches.

Having taken so many interventions, I am conscious of the time.

I can give you the time back, minister.

Màiri McAllan

Thank you very much.

In the vein of learning from others, we remain committed to increasing the sourcing of local produce in the public sector. Our support for the Soil Association’s food for life programme, which I am sure that Brian Whittle is aware of, continues. It is now operating in school settings across 17—more than half of—local authorities, and it has already made a big difference to the lives of many young people across the country. The programme contributes to our goals of becoming a good food nation, reducing inequality and achieving net zero emissions by 2045, and we are in active discussions with the Soil Association on options to extend that programme into other public sector settings, which is an issue that was mentioned earlier. [Interruption.] I really must make progress; next time, hopefully.

In relation to reducing inequality, the Scottish Government is committed, in everything that we do, to driving social justice and ensuring that no one is left behind. On climate action, that means putting people at the heart of our efforts and enshrining the principles of just transition in law, which the Parliament did. [Interruption.] The response is the same as it was five seconds ago—I really must make progress.

The same ethos very much applies to food policy and underpins much of the action that we are already taking to become a good food nation by 2025. As has been mentioned, we recently introduced to Parliament the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill, which will enshrine our ambition to be a good food nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food that they produce, buy, cook, serve and eat every day.

The bill will underpin a whole lot of work that the Scottish Government is already undertaking and, as I said to Brian Whittle after his intervention, it is the foundation on which we will build a country where everyone can access Scotland’s delicious and nutritious natural larder of meat, fish, dairy, oats, kale and much more. It will provide the overarching framework for clear, consistent and coherent future food policy that is in line with the aims of the Glasgow declaration.

I close by encouraging other Governments to follow where Scotland has led in embedding sustainable, fair and integrated food policy.

Meeting closed at 18:03.