11 August 2009 | Jake Kanter
The UK government's food buying is "a mess" and must be improved, according to campaign organisation Sustain.
The food and farming lobby group said the government is not putting "its money where its mouth is" when it comes to sourcing local and sustainable supplies of food.
Alex Jackson, spokesperson for the organisation's Good Food for Our Money campaign, said: "Government food procurement is a mess, allowing food to be bought with taxpayers' money that is bad both for people and the planet. Buying food from poorer countries, without any assurance that it has been fairly traded, is the tip of the iceberg. Procurement standards are weak and not enforced and there is a lack of political will to improve."
An e-mail from a senior buyer at NHS Supply Chain, published by Sustain, suggested the Department of Health's £48 million scheme to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among school pupils will not include sustainability criteria or support local farmers. "While I would really like to be fluffy and sustainable I also have to be realistic about the price," it read.
A spokesman for NHS Supply Chain said it takes sustainability "very seriously", and is bound by EU procurement laws to ensure all suppliers have an equal chance of winning contracts.
Sustain also quoted figures from a report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which revealed only 8 per cent of the tea and coffee purchased by the Department of Communities and Local Government last year was certified as fair trade.
The criticism came as Defra published a report on securing the UK's food supplies for the future. It said the government can use its £2 billion annual food spend to provide leadership on local and sustainable sourcing.
Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, said: "The role of domestic food producers in helping to deliver [food] security cannot be underestimated and we are pleased to see recognition of the need to create the conditions for a competitive, sustainable domestic production to thrive."