By Dr Sheila George, Food Policy Manager, WWF Scotland

MORE than ever people are scrutinising the food on their plates. Is it organic, was it grown locally, is it in season? These questions are being asked not only for our own health reasons, but also for the health of our planet.

Globally, food production and consumption are key drivers of environmental damage. Netflix’s Our Planet series, developed in collaboration with WWF, lays bare the impacts for nature – habitat loss, wildlife declines and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But we could do things differently in Scotland and set the global standard in local, sustainable, affordable, and nutritious food and drink, while doubling the value of the sector by 2030. We believe a strong and ambitious Good Food Nation Bill, linking all areas of policy related to food to drive change, could get us there.

The Scottish Government is currently running a consultation on Good Food Nation legislation, but what could it mean for the environment? We think there’s a huge opportunity to set a goal to halve the environmental footprint of Scotland’s food system in a decade. We’re working towards a similar goal in partnership with Tesco, to halve the environmental impact of the average shopping basket. It’s clear that big retailers will be looking more carefully at the environmental practices of their suppliers in meeting this goal.

More than three-quarters of Scotland’s land area is used for agriculture and food production has a huge influence on biodiversity and the wider environment. On more intensively-managed agricultural land, habitat diversity and species numbers have shown serious declines. For example, changes in management practices such as fertiliser application, changes in sowing and harvesting practices and frequency of agricultural operations all affect farmland biodiversity.

In contrast, High Nature Value (HNV) farmland is associated with traditional farming and crofting, generally extensive livestock grazing, which fosters biodiversity rich habitats like the machair grasslands of the Western Isles. HNV farming and crofting is low-input and low-output, using traditional breeds and working with the land to keep artificial pesticide and fertiliser use low. In becoming a Good Food Nation, we must preserve and better support these traditional farming systems and minimise the impacts of more intensive systems to protect the landscapes, wildlife and rural communities that depend on each other.

A quarter of GHG emissions are released from Scottish agriculture. However, agriculture and other land uses also hold the solution to greenhouse gas removal through sustainable land management. Soils hold huge potential to store carbon and support rare species and habitats. Pasture and farm woodland can also capture and store carbon. This potential must be harnessed and farmers supported through a transition to climate-friendly farming.

Food waste results in additional environmental impacts. Despite the high number of people who can’t afford food, we waste a staggering 1.35 million tonnes of it in Scotland, 600,000 tonnes of which is household food waste.

We have the tools and the know how to transform the environmental impact of our food system if we have the will. We can do this in a joined-up way through the Good Food Nation Bill to also help to tackle ill-health, food poverty and workers’ rights and further enhance our “brand Scotland” approach. That’s why we are working together with the Scottish Food Coalition in calling for a cross-cutting Good Food Nation Bill. We believe it could help drive changes throughout the food supply chain, from the grower to the consumer, reducing negative impacts and maximising the opportunity to produce and consume healthy, affordable and sustainable food for all.

There’s still time for you to have your say on the consultation, you can find out more here