18 January 2007 | Paul Snell
Conservative party leader David Cameron has called for a "revolution" in the way the government purchases food.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference this month Cameron said the Blair administration was not properly considering its role as a food buyer. "Government is a big player, its actions can make a big difference," he said. "It spends £1.8 billion a year on food for the public sector. That gives it a lot of clout in the marketplace."
But he added government programmes, specifically the public sector food procurement initiative (PSFPI), were not managed effectively.
The PSFPI, launched in 2003, aims to improve food buying in the public sector by raising production standards, increasing tenders from local providers and their capacity to meet demand, encouraging the consumption of healthy food and reducing the environmental impact of food production.
Cameron said: "Ministers launched the PSFPI to encourage public sector bodies to procure locally-sourced food. But there's a problem. The government has no way of measuring its progress towards achieving this."
But the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for the programme, said progress was being measured through case studies across the country.
Cameron said food bought for the public sector should meet the Red Tractor standard, proposed by the party a year ago. "While it does not guarantee a British source, at least it would be produced to British standards," he added.
When asked to explain this proposal further, a party spokesman told SM there weren't many more details, but it was being examined by their "Quality of life" policy group, led by Ecologist magazine editor Zac Goldsmith.
In his speech Cameron criticised the relationship between supermarkets and farmers. He said instances where producers had to pay for promotions and supply labour to stack supermarket shelves were "completely unacceptable".