Public sector must say how much food is local

Plans to drive more sustainable food procurement throughout the public sector, including new proposals to require councils and NHS organisations to publish details of the food they buy, will be set out by Shadow Environment Secretary Nick Herbert today (23 April).

 

Mr Herbert, who is standing as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Arundel & South Downs on 6 May, is launching a new phase of his successful Honest Food campaign.

The campaign initially focused on the need for clear country of origin labelling but now includes a range of proposals to help boost local food sourcing in the public sector, including:

  • Government leading by example. Conservatives will mandate that all new contracts for Whitehall departments and their agencies only purchase food that meets British standards of production, wherever this can be achieved without increasing overall costs.

  • Developing a Code for Sustainable Food. We will develop a Code to provide a clear, simple and workable set of standards for the public sector, from hospitals and care homes to schools and prisons.
  • Transparency in public sector food procurement. We will require local councils and NHS organisations to publish details of the food they buy, so that people can hold them to account and demand improvement.

Mr Herbert said: "Under Labour, our self-sufficiency in food has fallen, government departments are sourcing less British food, and taxpayers have no idea how much of the food served in their local school or hospital is British.  We need a government that backs British farmers, takes a lead in sourcing more local food and is transparent about what food the public sector is buying.

"A Conservative Government will require all Whitehall departments to source only food meeting British standards of production wherever this can be achieved without increasing overall costs.  But we want to go further, developing a code for sustainable food that will provide a clear standard against which the record of public sector bodies can be judged.  So we will also require councils and NHS organisations to publish their food procurement contracts so that local residents, patients and parents can see how much of their money is being spent on local food. 

"The public sector spends £2 billion a year on food procurement so using this sum more wisely would make a huge difference.  More local sourcing is good for the consumer, good for British producers, good for the environment, and can be good for the bottom line as well.  This new transparency requirement will lift the veil on the procurement practices of the public sector and enable people to demand better performance if their school or hospital is not procuring food sustainably."

Ends

 

Notes for Editors

1. Current procurement practices. The public sector spends over £2 billion on food each year. Spending a greater proportion of taxpayers' money on sustainable food produced to British standards will boost local economies, help our farmers and benefit the environment by reducing damaging food miles. However, official figures show that the Government is sourcing a declining proportion of its food from British sources. Most procurement practices of public sector organisations are concealed from the public and taxpayers know very little about the origin of the food that is bought by public bodies (Defra, Press Release, 26 February 2010; Defra, Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative, Third Report, February 2010).

2. Conservative policy on food procurement. At the Conservative Party conference in October 2009, Nick Herbert announced that a Conservative Government will require all Whitehall departments to procure food that met British standards of production, wherever this could be achieved without increasing overall costs. However, we want to increase sustainable food procurement across the public sector and will drive greater transparency in public food contracts to help achieve this. Our plans to promote local food sourcing and spread more sustainable food procurement will involve:

a) Government leading by example. We will mandate that all new contracts for Whitehall departments and their agencies only purchase food that meets British standards of production, wherever this can be achieved without increasing overall costs.

b) Developing a Code for Sustainable Food. We will develop a Code to provide a clear, simple and workable set of standards for the public sector, from hospitals and care homes to schools and prisons. This standard would be comparable across sectors and would focus on core sustainability measures, like Farm Assurance Standards for meat, fish that are not endangered, and eggs from cage free hens.

c) Transparency in public sector food procurement. With the Code in place, we will require public bodies to publish information on their current procurement practices and food contracts to reveal whether these standards are being met. We will require local councils and NHS organisations to publish details of the food they buy so people can hold them to account and demand improvement.

3. Honest Food campaign. Nick Herbert has extended the successful ‘Honest Food' campaign with a new website (http://www.honestfoodcampaign.com/). The campaign calls for an overhaul of food labelling procedures to end the unclear and misleading labelling of meat. Under current rules, the country shown on the label merely refers to the place the product was last processed. Foreign meat can be imported into Britain, turned into sausages or bacon and subsequently labelled in a way that suggests it is genuinely British. The 2010 Conservative manifesto said: "We will introduce honesty in food labelling, if necessary through legislation, so consumers can be confident about where their food comes from. This will ensure that meat labelled as ‘British' is born and bred in Britain, and raised to our high welfare standards. And we will promote local food networks so that homes and businesses can obtain supplies of locally produced food." The Honest Food campaign is also promoting local sourcing of food, and sustainable procurement practices by the public sector.

4. Declining proportion of Whitehall food sourced from British farms. New figures released today by Defra show that across Whitehall, the Government is sourcing a declining proportion of food from UK farms, from 66 per cent in 2007-08 to 65 per cent in 2008-09. See: http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/policy/publicsectorfood/index.htm.

a) This including a lower percentage of poultry, beef/veal, mutton/lamb, pork, fish, bakery, eggs, cheese, brassicas (e.g. brussel sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers)

b) DCLG, DfT, DWP, FCO, MoJ and the NHS Supply Chain are sourcing a lower proportion of indigenous food than last year.

c) DCSF, DWP, FCO, and HMRC are not procuring any British bacon.

d) The figures indicate that only 0-1 per cent of bacon served to our Armed Forces is British.

5. Whitehall procuring less British food than country as a whole. The UK is currently 73 per cent self-sufficient in indigenous food, which means the Government is buying a considerably lower proportion of British food (65 per cent) than the country as a whole.

Joe Coombes