Farming News - Back British Farmers: The Government must buy British for schools & hospitals

Back British Farmers: The Government must buy British for schools & hospitals

03 Dec 2021
Frontdesk / Arable / Livestock

Every year, £2.4bn is spent on food for schools, hospitals, the armed forces and other public institutions. More should be spent on high standard, British produce. 

Credit: cottonbro | Pexels

Currently, public sector caterers are asked to follow government buying standards for food (GBSF), but are allowed to get round the rules to avoid “significant increase in costs”. They are supposed to meet higher environmental and animal welfare standards, including verifiably sustainable fish, and must promote healthier eating. Sustain estimate that only 50% of public institutions meet the current standards, and ex Government Minister Lord Vaisey has put the figure for non-compliance at 40%.

Sustain's call to action follows recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy which found that the government buying standards don’t actually guarantee that the food bought with taxpayer money is good. It recommended that the standards be redesigned to emphasise the importance of quality over cost. With thousands of schools and hospitals already serving better standard produce within their budgets, the campaigners say the loophole can be closed without incurring additional costs.

Ministers have a chance to do this in a food strategy white paper, set to be published early next year. Please write to your MP to call for a change in the law now.

Ruth Westcott, campaign coordinator at Sustain said:

“This should be a win-win for the government. Instead of wasting millions of pounds on bad food they could be using their massive buying power to support the British farmers working hard to meet high standards, spending more taxpayer money in rural communities and providing millions of people with healthier food. By buying better, local produce it could also be kinder to the planet and help tackle climate change. We need to see a proposal to change the law in the new year.”

Rob Percival, Head of Food Policy, Soil Association said:

“Thousands of schools and hospitals working with Food for Life are already serving seasonal and freshly prepared menus, while taking steps to source local, organic and agroecological ingredients, and doing this within budget. Each pound spent through Food for Life delivers over £3 in social value to local communities, benefitting both producers and local food businesses. This is despite – not because of – national procurement policy. The government must work harder to ensure that public spend supports British farmers producing sustainable and higher welfare produce.”  

Andy Jones, chair of PSC100 caterers group said: 

"We have great caterers serving amazing food up and down the country but we need leadership from Government to make this happen across the board. All school, hospital and prison menus should include high quality, high welfare British produce to support our farmers and make our diets healthier and more sustainable. Better food will also improve intake and help tackle malnutrition. It's absolute nonsense that this isn't happening at the moment but the standards we have aren't working. Now is the chance to be bold, and do the right thing."

Public meals must tackle climate change

With about 35% of greenhouse gas emissions coming from the global food system, better public sector food is an opportunity to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint. This includes more fruit and vegetables and pulses, small amounts of meat, dairy, eggs and fish from higher welfare, local and wildlife-friendly sources, and more seasonal and locally-sourced produce. 

Polling commissioned by Sustainable Food Places and carried out by Savanta ComRes in September 2021 found that 79% people agreed that public institutions should be made to serve high quality and high animal welfare meat and dairy produce that meets British standards as a minimum. 

Trade deals and food safety

There are growing concerns that trade deals could permit imports of food produced with high levels of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides, and from systems with poor animal welfare and questionable food hygiene. With several UK supermarkets saying they won't stock sub-standard food, public sector caterers could be a natural avenue for this produce. The Government’s own Trade and Agriculture Commission, the National Food Strategy and a recent Lords committee have all called for imports to meet core standards.