SSAC Report - Scotland's food systems - the contribution of local production

SSAC Report - Scotland's food systems - the contribution of local production.pdf

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Executive summary 


Historically, the main food policy driver was to grow the production base (i.e., through agriculture). However, as awareness of the importance of nutrition and of food safety has grown, the link between what we eat and its impact on human health has grown. At the same time, the impacts of production methods on the environment have been increasingly recognised. From these developments, new areas of government responsibility have evolved. The food system (from production through to consumption) is now regulated by policies spanning multiple government and local authority departments. The Scottish Government (SG) has recognised this in its development of the Good Food Nation Act (GFNA). The Act places responsibility on Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish a national good food nation plan and to require certain authorities to prepare and publish their own good food nation plans. 

The Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC) is an advisory body independent of government. Recognising the complexity of food systems and the potential for unintended consequences between policies, the SSAC offered to undertake a review of relevant evidence. The scope of the study was agreed at inception with policy officials in the Food and Drink Division. It builds on the analysis of the Scottish Government consultation on local food1 which was published in July 2022. Building on the views expressed in the consultation, the study used readily available examples of good practice and evidence from the scientific literature to explore the use of innovations and their impacts in local food production systems. 


We sought the views of stakeholders via a questionnaire (Annex A), supplemented by a virtual roundtable (Annexes B, and D) bringing together respondents and additional stakeholders (collectively representing local and national government and the third sector) with academic experts. The definition of local production[2] used in all correspondence was taken from the one used by the SG. The questionnaire and roundtable discussions focused on three themes:

i. innovations to stimulate local production; 

ii. innovations in the social and policy environment to facilitate local production; and 

iii. consideration of the health, social, and economic aspects of local food production which could inform both the implementation of the GFNA and the development of other food policies with a local focus. The outputs from the questionnaire and roundtable stages were used to focus the in-depth review of good practice and evidence from the scientific literature. 


Scotland’s geographical diversity is well documented in relation to local food production (e.g. types of produce, access to affordable energy) due to differences in environmental and infrastructural conditions and connectedness. Thus, the GFNA places a responsibility on ‘relevant authorities’[3] at a local level to develop GFN plans which must have regard to the national GFN plan. Both national and local plans must also have regard to the scope for food-related issues to affect outcomes in relation to a range of issues

This includes, inter alia, social and economic well-being, the environment, health, and physical and mental wellbeing, economic development, animal welfare, education, and child poverty. This requires an engagement across sectors and the examples of innovations included in Annex E were selected to help address the challenges which this imposes. 

Development of both national and local plans must include a consultation stage which has ‘regard to the importance of communicating in an inclusive way that is effective in engaging children and young people’. Inclusive and representative community engagement is a challenge, as highlighted in a recent SSAC report[4] on aquaculture, which recommended formally engaging social scientists in the process. 

Insights and suggestions

Below, we highlight some key insights and suggestions to SG on potential advantages and barriers to adoption of food system innovations (which will differ in importance according to the priority challenges in local areas). These are structured around the original three themes in the questionnaire and roundtable and have focused predominantly, but not solely, on terrestrial production systems (i.e. excluding fisheries and aquaculture). Environmental themes have not been addressed explicitly in this report since they have been well covered in other reports, although it should be recognised that many of the innovations reflect the need of food production to adapt to climate change. The three themes were chosen to highlight the importance of considering the consequences of the adoption of system innovations on other sectors of the community beyond local producers. Further details of the innovations are available in the relevant Tables in Annex E.

Examples of innovations in biology, processing, and supply chains (p 16 Annex E): 

Production of novel proteins is being researched in Scotland but is currently small-scale. This adds cost in terms of processing infrastructure and establishing supply chains and may result in consumer resistance. Vertical farms have been a well-advertised innovation for producing fresh vegetables to remote communities; however, price and environmental comparisons with greenhouses and polytunnels were not available. On processing and supply chains, the low (compared to European countries) participation of Scottish farmers in co-operatives was highlighted. Accelerating the adoption of innovations would benefit from growers and producers, processors and retailers (local and national), and local authorities and government working together – as well as being responsive to potential changes in consumer attitudes and expectations. Collaboration and engagement are essential to support scalability of both supply and demand. The targeting of government financial support towards co-operatives rather than individuals might be an incentive for greater collaboration. Examples of social and policy innovations (p 31 Annex E): 

Community gardens and allotments have the potential to contribute to health and well-being and the availability of affordable food in urban settings. However, they are unlikely to scale to support a large part of the population. At the same time, the contribution of local procurement and farm shops in rural areas to local economies (beyond just local producers) should be recognised (due to ‘imports’ of many products from outside the local area) – although comprehensive data on what is sold in ‘farm shops’ is lacking. Increasing local procurement is a challenge in Scotland due to both the seasonality of production and constraints on public sector budgets for procurement for schools and hospitals, for instance. There are examples of success of local procurement, but it was not possible to identify the origins of the supply. Food safety regulation appears as a barrier to local producers, yet regulation of the food industry is vital for health and well-being. Increasing the number of small producers and processors increases the burden on local authorities.

Nutrition, health, and economic benefits: 

The nutritional benefits of foods depend not only on the nutritive value of individual food items but also on the wider composition of diets within which they are consumed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that ‘local’ food is more nutritious (and hence healthier) because it should, by definition, be fresher; however, scientific reports advise against making that generic assumption. What is on offer in local shops will influence what is purchased, which in turn will affect dietary choices. Nutrition considerations are embedded in the analysis of innovations. Local production and retail may have an important role to play in improving Scottish diets, but a better understanding of what food is sold outside supermarkets may be an important first step. 

The main report which follows contains a more detailed consideration of the supporting evidence drawing out potential actions for other stakeholders. It includes links to examples of good practice which could be useful to those charged with developing Good Food Nation plans.


[2] Local food production is defined by the SG as food that has some or all of the following features: it is produced locally (this includes your, town, region or elsewhere in the rest of Scotland) and it has short supply chains (there are fewer steps than global and imported food between the primary producer of the food and the person who eats the food; this could include a farm supplying a local shop or supermarket)

[3] A health board, a local authority or a public authority specified by the Scottish Ministers in regulations.

[4] SSAC Aquaculture report

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