Last month we reported that we had taken up comments made by Defra Minister of State, Caroline Spelman, who said: “The public sector spends around £2 billion on food every year. I want Defra to lead the way in encouraging public procurement to choose food which is local and involves the fewest food miles in its journey from producer to plate. It’s a step which can save money as well as carbon emissions.”
This is the response received from Lord Henley (standing in for the Secretary of State during the Parliamentary recess):
‘The contribution of the Fresh Produce Consortium to the debate on food procurement in the public sector is invaluable and I am grateful for your detailed observations on our current policy as well as your support for the drive to eat more fruit and vegetables. Your work so far on the fruit and vegetables task force has been constructive and helpful. I understand the Secretary of State attended the last task force meeting and was interested to hear the group’s recommendations around wholesale markets. I should point out that the position that we are taking is not one of restricting imports of food – this is about quality not origin. We are determined to see that, whilst operating within its EU and international trade obligations, the public sector does not act in a way that actively favours lower food production standards than our own.
This is reflected in our commitment that central Government and eventually the whole public sector should, subject to no overall increase in costs, procure food that meets British or equivalent standards. This should not impact on importers of non-indigenous foods or food brought in fresh outside the British growing season, and it certainly should not threaten those companies supplying the best quality food which will have been produced to equivalent standards.
Over the coming months Defra officials, working with the Office of Government Commerce and colleagues across Government, will be developing options for a ‘Government Buying Standard’ (GBS) for food. This would be mandatory for central Government and encouraged across the wider public sector and its purpose is to improve both sustainability and nutritional aspects of food in the public sector. I do hope that you will be able to contribute to the consultation stage of the development of these standards.’
FPC is seeking further clarification regarding Defra’s statement regarding ‘best quality foods’ and ‘British or equivalent standards’, in particular in relation to Globalgap standards. We shall also be asking for more details regarding proposals to introduce a ‘Government Buying Standard’ for food. We will keep members advised of developments.