Headlines: August 27th, 2003

A review has been launched to look at how food and catering services are purchased by central government and its agencies as well as by local councils, schools, hospitals and prisons The review by public sector caterers and buyers, is being coordinated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and will look at the environmental impact of production and distribution, waste, energy and biodiversity, animal welfare and pesticide use, and nutrition.The public sector is an enormous customer for food producers – spending more than 1.8 billion pounds a year. The NHS alone spends 500 million pounds. The review will examine whether small producers are being given a fair chance to compete for public sector contracts and whether the type of food served can contribute to organisations’ wider objectives.

The review will involve all public sector purchasers in England. The initiative will focus on ensuring that public sector food and catering contracts specify appropriate standards on animal welfare, pesticide use and the environment; food with health benefits is promoted in public sector canteens; environmental impacts are reduced; the procurement of organic food is promoted and waste reduced as well as identifying supply-side difficulties among UK producers and tackling them.

Defra has produced a delivery plan in consultation with other public sector bodies, and each government department has an action plan with a checklist to chart progress towards meeting the initiative’s objectives. The Improvement and Development Agency is working with the Local Government Association on sustainable food purchasing guidance.

Sir Don Curry, chairman of the independent Implementation Group overseeing delivery of the Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food said, “There is a real commercial opportunity for the farming industry, however, if our producers are to play their part in this, government and industry must work together to ensure that they can supply enough fresh and wholesome produce at the right price.”

The initiative is part of the government’s Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food and will feed into the Framework for Sustainable Development on the Government Estate. It will work within UK policy and the EC Treaty, and EU rules on public procurement. Guidance, case studies and information on the initiative is available online at http://www.defra.gov.uk/farm/sustain/procurement/index.htm.