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Food for a Wellbeing Economy

True cost accounting for an inclusive and sustainable food system in Scotland

How is the cost of food defined? How do you know if the food that is personally 'cheap' for you is not socially and environmentally expensive? This policy proposal focuses on the True Cost Accounting system as a means to a more nutritious, sustainable food security vision that can be foundational for the Scottish wellbeing economy.



Sustainability, Economy


Jophin Mathai

Shun Nok Ryan Lau

Nainika Singh

Taanya Trivedi

Harriet von Kügelgen

Executive Summary

Society is heavily reliant on the food system for well-being and survival. What often remains hidden are the unaccounted costs our food system incurs in the form of numerous negative externalities. The Sustainable Food Trust found that for every pound spent by UK consumers on food, they incur an additional pound in hidden costs in the form of environmental, healthcare and social costs. These costs have long term effects and are not included in the retail price of the food we buy and consume.

This policy proposal seeks to address this problem by making these hidden and ‘external’ costs transparent in Scotland’s food system through the True Cost Accounting (TCA) framework. TCA is a valuation framework for consumers, policymakers and the food and farming industry to measure the true costs of food. TCA also puts the externalities into monetary terms, allowing better comparison of externalities across dimensions.

The implementation of TCA in Scotland would work towards the National Performance

Framework created by the Scottish Government designed to achieve the goal of national wellbeing through 11 outcomes, which includes ‘Health’, ‘Environment’ and ‘Economy’. With the Scottish government’s desire for a healthy and active population, preservation of natural resources and sustainable economies, a TCA framework applied to the food system would strengthen its progress towards achieving these goals.

This policy aims to createa two-stage process of studying and implementing TCA for the Scottish the food system:

  1. It is recommended that the Scottish government create an Expert Task Group (ETG) to do an in-depth technical study of the TCA methodology. This would enable the Scottish government to account for the negative externalities present in Scotland’s food production and also unveil new ways of accounting for outcomes associated with the National Performance Framework.

  2. The next stage would be for a consultation group to be formedwith different stakeholders in Scotland’s food system to reflect and discuss the results and conclusions of the ETG. The discussion would be focused on how TCA can be implemented across Scotland’s food system. Some prominent stakeholders that should be considered are think-tanks like the Sustainable Food Trust, industry bodies like Scotland Food and Drink and advisories bodies to the Scottish government like the Agriculture and Rural Development Group (ARD).

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