08 January 2009 | Jake Kanter
Public sector business could do "a lot more" to help British food producers, a government minister has said.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference this week, Hilary Benn, secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, said the government should continue to increase and improve support for local producers.
Annual figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed central government departments had increased local food purchasing schemes since 2007 (News, 11 December 2008). But Benn called on public sector organisations to buy more seasonal British food and open up contract opportunities for small suppliers.
The Labour MP said public sector business can help protect and support British suppliers, such as pig farmers, so they can maintain high welfare standards.
"Buying local food and eating with the seasons where it's possible supports our businesses. The Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative helps producers find a market for their food. But there is still a lot more we can do," he said.
Benn also argued the best way for the UK to ensure security of food supply is through "strong, productive and sustainable British agriculture, and trading freely with other nations". He added there was no excuse for British vendors not producing as much food as possible.
In December Benn established a group, led by the chair of the Charity Commission Dame Suzi Leather, to advise the government on issues such as securing the UK's food supply.