A Labour MSP has opened a consultation which she hopes will lead to a right to food being legally recognised in Scotland.

Elaine Smith's proposed Right to Food (Scotland) Bill would incorporate the right to food, recognised in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which the UK has ratified, into domestic Scots law. 

As the consultation points out, a right to food, as implemented in some other countries, would not usually enable an individual to sue their government in court in the event that they are not able to eat. Nor does it impose an obligation on governments to hand out free food to anyone who wants it. Rather, as put by the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation, it is about being guaranteed the right to feed oneself, "which requires not only that food is available – that the ratio of production to the population is sufficient – but also that it is accessible – i.e., that each household either has the means to produce or buy its own food".

It adds: "However, if individuals are deprived of access to food for reasons beyond their control, for instance because of armed conflict, natural disaster or because they are in detention, recognition of the right to life obliges states to provide them with sufficient food for their survival."

Introducing her consultation, Ms Smith states that recent years have witnessed "an appalling rise in the number of food banks and food parcels being handed out. This should not be necessary in a country with our wealth and resources".

Any legislation seeking to tackle these issues must be bold and ambitious, she writes. "This bill seeks to enshrine the right to food into law, placing clear duties on public authorities, with appropriate targets and measurements to ensure that the people of Scotland’s right to food is being met... We must ensure a fair food system, and a future free from hunger for all in Scotland. I believe that the enshrining of the right to food in Scots law, and the creation of a statutory body with oversight on food is the best way to achieve that future."

According to her paper, if the Government was shown to be failing its obligations it would be expected to set targets and enact policies to address the underperformance in delivering the right to food for all citizens, with the aim of creating a system where all citizens have their right to food respected and fulfilled.

The right to food was recently backed by the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

Ms Smith hopes the consultation will lead to a final proposal which, if supported by enough MSPs from different parties, would enable a bill to be introduced. With elections due next May, this cannot now happen until the next session of the Parliament, but Ms Smith hopes to use the results of the present consultation to inform that bill.

Click here to access the consultation. The deadline for responses is 15 September 2020.