Feeding the Five Million: Conference Report

Feeding the Five Million: Conference Report
Nourish Scotland


Executive Summary


Nourish Scotland undertook a two day enquiry in September 2013 to explore how Scotland could feed all its people well and sustainably.


This report summarises the work of eight teams over two days. The teams in turn drew on both their own sector knowledge and the evidence from 15 expert witnesses. The report is intended to advance the debate between national government, the NHS and local government, the farming, food and drink industry, academia and civil society about the direction of travel for Scotland’s food system – and how to achieve the stepchange in sustainability which is required. 


The conference recognised Scotland’s achievements in the last few years and that there was a great deal to build on in policy and practice. However, while the conference had a positive and can do/must do approach, the consensus from participants was that a transformation is needed in Scotland’s food system.


The key findings from the enquiry are:


Scotland’s current food production and consumption system is on balance harmful to the environment, both in Scotland and in the wider world; and at a population level it is contributing to the burden of chronic disease and early death. While Scotland’s food exports are a success story, food poverty and malnutrition in Scotland are on the increase.


Market forces on their own will not deliver public goods and public health from food and farming.

The enquiry’s main recommendation is:


As a society we should refocus our food and farming systems on feeding everyone well, and on enhancing natural capital both in Scotland and in the countries from which we import food.


Food and farming in Scotland should look and feel very different in 2023. A widespread change in food culture will be visible and tangible, for example: 


There will be stronger connections between citizens and food producers; and hundreds of new small food producers, both private businesses and social enterprises, forming a much more diverse mixed economy of food.


A web of social enterprises, together with well-targeted public investments, mean that there are no food banks in Scotland.


A network of community food hubs across Scotland will play a useful role as physical places where people can get information and advice on food issues, and make useful local connections.


New organic and agroecological small farms, linked to cities and communities through mutually beneficial short supply chains will diversify food and landscapes and create ‘sustainable intensification’ in periruban areas – making the food system more resilient. There will be more farmland birds and an increase in soil carbon stocks. 


We will have seen the beginnings of a historic shift in Scotland’s industrial diettowards a ‘new normal’ of less refined sugar, less processed food, more fruit and vegetables, less and better meat. Public food will lead the way in this change, along with a ‘Manifesto for a guid Scots diet’ developed by leading chefs. The burden of diet-related ill-health in Scotland will start to fall. 


We will have reduced the carbon footprint of our food production, and adapted to domestic and international climate change through significant investment in agroforestry, greater self-sufficiency in food production and ways to buffer global food price volatility to maintain food security for low income households.


At European level, Scotland will have played a role in developing a Common Food Policy which aligns agriculture much more closely with goals of public health, social inclusion and climate change mitigation, and where the price of food reflects externalities. This will require sustained leadership and investment from national government, along with actions at all levels – individuals and families, communities and business, NHS and local government.


New actors, new roles and new ways of thinking are all needed to achieve a deep change over the next decade.


The change we want to see will not happen by accident. While there are already examples across Scotland of innovation in sustainable food, these need to be scaled up and to become mainstream. National and local government need to start a virtuous circle of policy support for and investment in sustainable food systems which lead to changing patterns of thinking and eating and in turn to widespread adoption of new social, cultural and market norms.


Read the full report here.