JUNK food would be legally required to carry a health warning under a radical plan being considered by ministers for a new bill to tackle deep rooted social and economic inequalities in Scotland.

The proposals being discussed also include extending the sugar tax to sweetened milk drinks, rolling out fruit and veg breaks to all primary schools and requiring restaurants to carry “traffic light labelling” on their menus.

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The measures are all under consideration for inclusion in a consultation on the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation Bill, set to be published next month. The landmark legislation has been planned for several years and is aimed at combating a wide range of problems such as poor diet, obesity and the academic attainment gap between pupils from lower and higher income backgrounds.

As revealed in yesterday’s National, ministers are also poised to consider establishing a universal legal right to food in the bill’s proposals, placing a statutory duty on public bodies to ensure vulnerable people have access to nutritious food. This move may mean local authorities would have to provide “holiday hunger” programmes in school holidays to ensure all children have the opportunity to eat properly outside term time.

The far-reaching proposals are contained in a document drawn up by the Scottish Food Commission, established three years ago to provide a co-ordinated approach to the bill taking in the impact of food inequality on education and health.

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“This bill builds upon two decades of work by the Scottish Government to ‘join up’ food policy areas which are traditionally separate. In that time, there has been substantial progress in the economic performance of the food and drink sector,” the document states. “However, by many measures, Scotland is still towards the top of the wrong league tables. We face well-known challenges in the areas of obesity, diet-related diseases and cancer, breastfeeding, dental health, food waste, food poverty and diet-related inequalities.”

It added: “This legislation provides an opportunity to join up many of the complex issues which are perpetuating the current situation and set out new powers ... in order to affect fundamental and worthwhile change.”

Under the headline “Potential measures for change”, the report lists mandatory labelling of junk food, extending the sugar tax to sweetened milk drinks, fruit and veg breaks in primaries, and requiring cafes and restaurants to provide a “traffic light” labelling system on dishes to inform customers of their nutritional value.

It also lists “legislating for universal provision of ‘fun and food’ (aka holiday hunger) programmes in school holidays” and duties “for local authorities to ensure that vulnerable people have access to adequate, nutritious and culturally appropriate food”.

The document highlights farming practices, suggesting ministers could ensure farm workers are paid at least the living wage, that animal welfare regulations are reviewed to ensure cattle, pigs and sheep are treated humanely and that animals are not exported for fattening and slaughter to other countries.

Setting out some of the wider social and health background for the legislation, the Scottish Food Commission report added 65 per cent of adults in Scotland are overweight, including 28 per cent who are obese. It added that the UK has the highest proportion of children living in severely food insecure households in the EU (10 per cent, compared to a EU average of 4 per cent).

“The rise of emergency food aid is also widely reported and food banks are operating across the UK as a vital support to families experiencing sudden economic crisis. This acute household insecurity is reported as arising from a perfect storm of low wages, insecure employment, changes to welfare support and a sanction-based benefit system, and rising costs of living.”

The report highlights the issue of food waste, saying that while some households go hungry, much food is thrown out. “It is estimated 270,000 tonnes of entirely edible food is thrown away each year in the UK but less than 14,000 tonnes of this is currently rescued and redistributed for the social good,” it said. “Zero Waste Scotland are supporting food companies to reduce waste and the Love Food Hate Waste Campaign encourages everyone from individuals to hold towns to waste less food ... what more can the GFN Bill do?”

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The proposals were welcomed by opposition parties and campaign organisations.

Mark Ruskell, for the Scottish Greens, said: “There are some good ideas ... such as responding to food poverty in the way we currently tackle fuel poverty, although that must not be seen as a distraction from tackling poverty directly. Similarly, there is long-overdue recognition that food provided by the Scottish public sector, from hospitals to prisons, needs to be of a higher standard.

In Denmark, they set a target in 2015 that 60 per cent of public sector catering should be organic, which has both driven up food quality and brought far-reaching environmental benefits, and this is something we should also be looking at. Overall, this is a thoughtful starting point.”

Pete Ritchie, of the food justice group Nourish Scotland, added: “We can’t close the attainment gap if we don’t close the nutrition gap. All our children should grow up in a household where no-one is worried sick about being able to put enough good food on the table, but at the moment in our land of food and drink we’re seeing some children being fed from food banks and others simply going without. It’s good to see that the Scottish Government is determined to change this.

“Food poverty, like fuel poverty, or period poverty, is just part of wider poverty. We need to chip away at it in every way possible, from tax and social security reform to dignified ways.”