UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food visits Scotland

The Scottish Human Rights Commission is pleased to welcome the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elver. This informal visit has been coordinated by Nourish Scotland, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) campaigning on food justice issues in Scotland.

Speaking about her visit, Hilal highlighted Scotland's opportunity to lead on the right to food through the forthcoming Good Food Nation Bill: “My visit to Scotland has been to inform and inspire decision-makers on the opportunity Scotland has to be a European leader on the right to food.”

“I congratulate the Scottish Government on the progress it has made so far, and encourage them to show leadership by protecting and progressing the right to food in the Good Food Nation Bill.”

“Scotland has some challenges on the right to food, including high levels of food insecurity and diet related health inequalities, problems with access to land, and an agricultural subsidy scheme that is not aligned to social, environmental, and climate commitments – but you also have many opportunities.”

“A hard brexit brings many new challenges to Scotland’s right to food obligations, including risks to farm incomes from export tariffs and unregulated cheap imports, but it is also a chance to rethink outdated policies – particularly on agricultural subsidies.”

The right to food in Scotland has been seriously affected by a number of factors in recent years, including welfare reform, low wages and the increasing cost of food. The Scottish Human Rights Commission wants to see the Scottish Government go further to meet its obligations and advance its specific pledges to explore the incorporation of international standards in domestic law and enshrine the right to food within Scots Law.

Explaining Judith Robertson, Chair of the Commission, said: “Enshrining the human right to food into Scots law would demonstrate real, progressive leadership by the Scottish Parliament and Government. Although the right to food is established in international human rights standards, the Commission believes direct incorporation of this, and other economic and social rights, into Scotland’s domestic laws would strengthen their enforceability, both now and in the longer term.

“Realising people’s right to food in practice means the state making sure that food is available, accessible and adequate for everyone. This includes, for example, government action to tackle low pay; ensuring that business plays its part in the sale of safe, nutritious food for all; and ensuring that the social security system enables people to eat well and with dignity.

“The Commission looks forward to engaging further with the Scottish Government, Parliament and civil society when it comes to taking forward the Special Rapporteur's recommendations.”

Speaking of the Special Rapporteur's visit Scotland's Equalities Secretary, Angela Constance MSP, said:  “I want everyone in Scotland to have access to fresh and healthy food. No-one should have to rely on emergency food provision in a country as prosperous as ours.

 “Our £1 million Fair Food Fund supports local organisations and community groups to reduce reliance on emergency food provision through other means, for example by providing nutritious food and teaching people how to cook fresh meals. We are also exploring ways to give further and better effect to the right to food in Scots Law, and whether that could support us to tackle the very real problem of hunger with a response based on human rights and dignity for all.

 “I hope that the Special Rapporteur will look at the positive work we are doing in Scotland and take that knowledge to other countries and ensure we all work together to address the underlying causes of food poverty.”

Coordinating the visit, Executive Director of Nourish Scotland, Pete Ritchie, said: “The Scottish Government is making real progress, for example by starting to monitor household food insecurity in the Scottish Health Survey. This means we’ll have a baseline to measure the impact of policy against.”

“But the right to food is about more than tackling acute food insecurity – it’s also the right to access nutritious and culturally acceptable food in a dignified way. And it means building sustainability into the food system for the long term, in terms of access to land, tackling climate change and safeguarding biodiversity.”

“We’re calling for a cross-cutting rights-based approach because food cuts across so many parts of our lives – it doesn’t make sense to just look at food and poverty in isolation without thinking about the impacts on health, workers' rights, access to land, farm incomes, environment, or climate change.

“The forthcoming Good Food Nation Bill should set a new direction for a resilient and fair food system, which nourishes all of Scotland’s people – and should establish a transparent process for monitoring progress across the board. 

“We’re really pleased the Special Rapporteur has been able to visit us in Scotland and highlight this opportunity we have to be a European leader on the Right to Food. We commend the Scottish Government for welcoming the Rapporteur, and for engaging with civil society and communities on these crucial questions about how food can help make Scotland a fairer, greener, healthier and more prosperous nation.”

Find out more about the Right to Food campaign

Information about the forthcoming Good Food Nation Bill

Read the Commission's recent statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the right to food