11 December 2003 | Simon Binns
The government wants public-sector food buyers to help the battle against the nation's obesity problem by buying more sustainable foods such as organic meat, fruit and vegetables.
The government outlined its Public Sector Sustainable Food Procurement Initiative to more than 300 delegates from major public institutions, including hospitals, prisons and schools, gathered at a national conference in London. The initiative is aimed at fighting what the government believes is an epidemic of obesity-related ill health.
It also wants buyers to give more small, local and organic producers the chance to compete more easily for contracts.
Food and farming minister Lord Whitty of Camberwell, who is heading the initiative, told delegates that too many buyers ignored value for money and bought cheap, overly processed foods regardless of environmental or health concerns.
"The food service sector needs to be encouraged to be part of the solution to unsustainable practices," he said.
"This government expects public-sector procurement to use purchasing power to help deliver its Sustainable Farming and Food Strategy and remove the barriers to small local suppliers."
The NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency, which has an annual food budget of £280 million, is "totally committed" to sustainable procurement, according to Duncan Eaton, its chief executive.
He said improving health and the recovery times of patients were priorities, and that sustainable food procurement should be part of this overall health agenda.
He added that earlier this year, the NHS saved millions of pounds by sourcing Fairtrade tea (see News, 27 February