This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response
to the Scottish Government Discussion Paper Choosing the
Right Ingredients, The Future of Food in Scotland.
UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to take
part in this discussion.
UNISON is Scotland's largest public service trade
union representing over 162,000 members working largely in the
public sector in Scotland. Many of our members work in public
sector catering, or in areas such as the Meat Hygiene Service
and environmental health, engaged in providing nutritious food,
improving /enforcing standards and educating people about healthy
UNISON has long argued that food policy needs
to be addressed in a cross cutting way, with a clear leadership
role for the public sector both as a provider of food in schools,
hospitals, prisons etc., and in its roles as a purchaser, in
awareness-raising and in setting standards.
In 2003 UNISON Scotland launched a major ‘Food
for Good' Charter for NHS catering services including: food
quality, fair trade, recycling, animal welfare, staff training
and employment conditions.
More recently we proposed expanding this across
all of the public sector, embracing local and global social
justice factors. That concept is the focus in this submission.
A Scottish Food Policy and the public sector
We welcome the Scottish Government's decision
to adopt a national food policy and agree that a holistic, joined-up
approach is required, given the range of areas that food policy
links into. These include climate change, health, education,
transport etc., addressing issues such as: tackling obesity,
public sector food procurement, food labelling, welfare, access
to healthy food and local sourcing of supplies, including organic.
The Discussion Paper acknowledges the potential
role of the public sector in being a market for food in Scotland
that is worth about £85m. There are substantial health and environmental
benefits related to improving the quality and sustainability
of food purchased by and provided by the sector in nursery settings,
schools, hospitals, prisons, care homes etc. These have been
shown by the success of the pioneering Hungry for Success initiative
We are pleased that the Sustainable Development
Commission Scotland recommends, in its response to the Food
discussion, that the schools work "should be taken forward
to build a sustainable food culture by linking public procurement
in schools, hospitals and prisons with ecological food production".
‘Food for Good' across the public sector
Our 10-point ‘Food for Good Charter' in 2003 addressed
the fact that diet and food production had become major social,
ethical and environmental issues and that the NHS should be
a "beacon of good practice".
It covered: organic food, animal welfare, meat
quality, fair trade, 5 portions a day, recycling/composting,
patients not profit, resources, real food and fair pay.
UNISON Scotland's Revitalising Our Public Services
campaigning has five principles - Democracy, Investment, Fairness,
Excellence and Partnership. We believe these could be applied
to a National Food Policy.
We have updated our ‘Food for Good' policy for
2008 and beyond to cover the entire public sector, with a five
point Charter, encompassing areas that of course do have some
overlap: Sustainability, Health, Social Justice, Excellence
The Charter - for Scotland's public sector
Food should be fresh, prepared locally and sourced
locally where possible.
Mains-fed water coolers should be provided, minimising
the use of bottled water.
Public bodies should produce annual reports giving
clear ‘global footprint' type information on all aspects of
their food use, including e.g. % of fresh, local food, progress
on waste minimisation and recycling etc.
Universal free school meals should be recognised
and adopted as a major contributor to improving health and tackling
The aim for all public sector catering should
be to give a daily option of an organic/ethically produced main
meal, ideally locally sourced.
Vending machines on school/hospital premises should
be used for healthy alternatives, not junk/fast food.
3. Social Justice
Fair trade food should be used where possible,
with targets of 50% by 2010 where relevant fair trade products
Decisions about menu options should give consideration
to providing less meat-intensive diets, with more fresh, seasonal
fruit and vegetables and sustainable fish.
Animal welfare must be prioritised, with an aim
for animal produce of using only recognised farm assured schemes
or organic schemes by 2015.
All food must meet quality nutritional standards,
monitored by relevant regulators. This involves excellence in
procurement and in staff training and conditions.
The top priority must be the contribution of food
to health and wellbeing, with recognition of the folly of previous
policies that pursued Compulsory Competitive Tendering, privatisation,
PFI and outsourcing - cutting standards and employment conditions,
increasing the use of cook-chill and cook-freeze food, and allowing
‘fast' and junk food in schools and hospitals.
The public must have access to clear relevant
information about food, including via labelling and annual reports.
Quality training and proper pay and employment
conditions for the sector, including training in environmental
factors as part of ‘green workplaces'.
Lessons for young people in primary and secondary
schools about the food chain, sustainability and preparation
of healthy meals.
Public awareness campaigns on healthy diets, tied
in with support to local food co-operatives and similar initiatives
to improve access to quality food for the most vulnerable.
These principles in practice
UNISON Scotland commends these principles to the
Scottish Government. In the interests of health and sustainability,
we need well resourced catering provided by directly employed
staff with proper training and good employment conditions
There are a number of examples of food initiatives
that demonstrate how such principles can be put into practise
very successfully. East Ayrshire Council radically improved
school meal menus with organic food, reduced fat, sugar and
salt, fresh and unprocessed ingredients and no colourings, artificial
flavourings or GM foods. The sustainable school meals initiative
attracted the attention of the Soil Association and the council
adopted their Food for Life scheme. The council used contract
specifications to encourage small local suppliers and reduced
the average distance travelled per menu item from 330 miles
to 99 miles. There was a slight cost increase overall, but a
Scottish Executive evaluation in 2006 said that: "…ingredient
and administration costs have gone up modestly, though they
remain within the range that many Local Authorities are already
paying. This allays to some extent the fear that increased costs
would mean local supply is not viable." Cost, of course,
should not be the only factor and the council's foresight may
well have made a major impact on child health simply by cutting
out colourings and artificial flavourings, given that the Food
Standards Agency wants six artificial colourings banned due
to links with hyperactivity. Several Scottish councils are looking
at following East Ayrshire's lead in their own schools.
In Wales the Assembly Government has ordered the
removal of junk food from NHS vending machines, as part of efforts
to tackle obesity and diet-related ill health. In Renfrewshire
the local council has taken steps to use licensing restrictions
to stop burger bars and ice cream vans operating near schools.
The move is supported by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which
also supports a new curriculum pack in Glasgow for teaching
primary school children about the importance of diet, nutrition
The importance of these principles for Food
Climate Change, Food and Sustainability
The threat to the world from climate change is
serious and the action required is urgent. The proposed Scottish
Climate Change Bill will see Scotland aiming to be a world leader
in public policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In this
context it is clear that sustainability should be at the
heart of food policy, with a local and global outlook, incorporating
health promotion and social justice. UNISON Scotland has suggested
the Scottish Climate Change Bill should place a duty on public
bodies to consider the impact of all their decisions on climate
change and to report annually. Such reporting should incorporate
relevant information about their food use, food waste etc. Negotiated
green workplace agreements should also include food factors
and there should be training for staff involved in implementing
‘green' food policies.
The goal of sustainable development is to enable
all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs
and enjoy a better quality of life without compromising the
quality of life of future generations.
A Scottish Food Policy has to have an international
element addressing climate change, fair trade, and the major
impact of rising energy, fuel and food prices on the most vulnerable
in society, here and across the world. Buying fair trade products
guarantees a fair deal for workers in developing countries.
Public sector bodies need strengthened public procurement guidance
and support on how they can specify the use of fair trade products,
and other relevant specifications, when putting contracts out
to tender. It is important to encourage diversity and sustainable,
fair, local trading relationships and to avoid local, small
suppliers being driven under by the ‘might' of the supermarket
The policy also has to adopt a long-term approach,
something politicians do not do often enough, recognising that
taking action now, will improve quality of life in the future,
rather than passing on problems to future generations. (E.g.
investing in free healthy school meals, or in greater use of
public transport by the food industry). The future cost benefits
are apparent (e.g. in healthier adults in the future, with reduced
costs to the NHS, or because - as the Stern report argued -
acting sooner rather than later on climate change will keep
the costs of tackling it down). However, the benefits to society
of such a policy will be measured in a great deal more than
just the future financial savings. Health and quality of life
provide less immediate measures, but are far more valuable to
us all. Improved nutrition in food for elderly people, for example,
can make a significant contribution to their mental and physical
As well as the international and long-term focus,
the policy will need to look at every part of the food supply
chain, to establish the ‘global footprint' of products using
agreed standards/measurements and to ensure proper labeling
to allow consumers and purchasers (from small businesses to
large hospitals) to make choices and assessments in buying healthy,
sustainable food. These will include where food comes from,
how ‘green' the production process has been and will take into
account options many people want such as organic, free range,
vegan or GM free. It will also include looking at the ingredients
within food products, so as to, for example, avoid palm oil
that has been grown on cleared rainforests.
Various factors affect decision-making on whether
food products can be classed as sustainable or organic. The
recent global food price increases are a severe threat to life
for many in developing countries and have highlighted problems
with biofuels policies, while debate has also raged around air
miles and whether food flown thousands of miles from overseas
can legitimately be labeled as organic, with some suggesting
that potentially the carbon footprint of its production might
be considerably lower than some food produced here or in nearby
countries. It is clear that the policy will need to look at
these various issues and take decisions based on best practice
and/or ‘gold standard' type certifications. UNISON Scotland
and Stop Climate Change Scotland has proposed that the Scottish
Government should be advised by an independent Scottish Climate
Change Committee, which would use the best and most up-to-date
scientific and other advice. This should include food sector
issues, where required, and the National Food Policy should
be updated in accordance with relevant advice.
Other important areas for the policy to look at
include: reducing food waste - currently Scots consumers throw
away £800 million worth of food annually, then there is food
packaging waste too; making a switch away from bottled water,
which damages the environment both with plastic bottles and
in the transport required. Mains-fed water coolers in workplaces
would make a major contribution to reducing carbon emissions.
The Scottish Government has already announced that it is to
use mains water for hospitality events.
As well as looking at the international impact
of food through buying fair trade products, the food policy
should consider health and sustainability advice on dietary
choices. Sustainable Development Commission Scotland, in its
response to the Food discussion, recommends on sustainability
that procurement priorities should make sustainable consumption
visible to the public "e.g. a clear shift in public sector
catering towards an emphasis on less meat-intensive diets maximising
the use of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables and promoting
more sustainable fish species." UNISON believes that animal
welfare should also be prioritised by the public sector, which
should seek to avoid importing food from intensive rearing systems
abroad that would fall short of UK standards, e.g. in chicken
and egg products. Animal produce should ideally be sourced from
organic schemes or from recognised farm assured schemes (e.g.
the RSPSCA Freedom Food Scheme or Quality Meat Scotland schemes),
with the aim of sourcing 100% of it this way by 2015.
Health and Excellence
As part of Scotland's efforts to tackle both obesity
and other health issues and its prioritising of action on climate
change, we believe that the universal provision of free school
meals could be a major part of the new National Food Policy.
However, if Ministers do not support this, we would suggest
that, as a minimum, councils should be given enabling powers
to set up innovative pilot schemes, as proposed by UNISON in
submissions prior to the passing of the Schools (Health Promotion
and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007. These could build on school
meals work done in Hull, for example, and would, in our view,
provide strong support for universal provision.
The benefits to patients, staff and visitors of
having hospitals provide much healthier food will be enormous
and similar benefits will apply in nurseries, prisons and care
homes. All public sector catering should meet quality nutritional
standards, monitored by relevant regulators and updated where
appropriate in line with the best evidence-based medical and
Quality food provision will never be possible
without a properly resourced and trained and well-paid workforce.
Many catering staff in Scotland, poorly paid to start with and
mainly female, were treated appallingly during various privatisation
processes. While it is excellent that many contracts have come
back in-house, it is important that the Scottish Food Policy
addresses issues around training, pay and employment conditions
and opposes any further privatisation, whether through PFI/PPP
or other outsourcing routes. A number of PFI contracts include
catering services. UNISON believes that these should be reviewed
to see how new standards in the food policy can best be provided.
We would like to see in-house bids for these contracts when
they come up for benchmarking.
Real food, freshly produced and locally sourced
where possible, should be standard, in preference to cook-chill
and cook-freeze meals. We would want the public sector purchasers
of food to also engage with suppliers about how to reduce the
use of pesticides, steroids, antibiotics and additives. GM products
should be avoided while there are concerns about health risks.
The use of vending machines selling fizzy drinks, crisps and
chocolate etc. in schools and hospitals obviously flies in the
face of healthy eating advice and awareness campaigns by government
and other organisations. These should be removed or stocked
with alternative healthy food and drinks.
All these issues are relevant to food policy in
terms both of having well trained and educated staff, on good
conditions, and over food standards, including freshness, sustainability
and nutritional quality. We need to ensure schools have suitable
dining areas, kitchens and equipment to allow staff to cook
fresh produce on site and serve it in a positive dining environment.
Proper facilities for cooking should be the norm across the
public sector. If PFI/PPP schemes do not allow for this, intervention
is needed. The 2005 Turning the Tables - Transforming School
Meals report for the Department of Education and Skills
south of the border warned that: "The existence of long-term
contracts cannot be allowed to adversely affect the health of
pupils in PFI schools."
Another policy area that needs to be reviewed
is ‘shared services', as much of this looks at centralised purchasing.
This would favour using large UK-wide bulk suppliers rather
than local firms. As UNISON's Scottish Secretary Matt Smith
told a Trade Union week meeting in the Scottish Parliament in
January 2008: "At a time that Government is advocating
sourcing supplies like food locally, to move to fewer, large
suppliers, delivering across the UK runs counter to attempts
to decrease the delivery mileage and assist in tackling climate
Meat Hygiene Service
UNISON is greatly concerned at present at the
threat to the Meat Hygiene Service from job losses and possible
privatisation. More than 70 jobs UK-wide are being cut, with
more to come, and disparities in pension packages for some of
those affected. UNISON opposes these cuts and any compulsory
redundancies and has warned the Scottish and UK governments
that there could be a risk to public health if the service is
not maintained as an independent public sector body with sufficient
staffing to carry out a quality inspection service. UNISON fears
that the options being considered by the MHS and the Food Standards
Agency (MHS is an Executive Agency of the FSA) point to privatisation,
outsourcing or inspection by the producers themselves. We would
question any moves to effectively dismantle Scotland's independent
meat inspection. We want the Scottish Government to step back
from the UK MHS/FSA proposals and to retain a high quality,
committed meat and poultry inspection public service.
If the public wants a high quality service, the
staff involved deserve to be properly rewarded, with excellent
training, pay and conditions. The Food Policy should make a
clear commitment to employment conditions.
We believe that the public sector can lead by
example on climate change generally and on food policy in particular.
The National Food Policy can create the framework for these
‘Food for Good' principles, which we believe would have wide
public support on top of all the long-term benefits for health
and the environment.