Government to lead on food purchasing

6 January 2010

6 January 2010 | Jake Kanter

The UK government plans to “lead by example” on sustainable food procurement to boost domestic production.

The public sector will aim to buy more local and sustainable produce in a bid to encourage other consumers to do the same. It is hoped this will help to secure the UK's future food supplies as the population grows and climate change adversely affects agriculture. 

Unveiling the Food 2030 strategy at the Oxford Farming Conference yesterday, environment secretary Hilary Benn said: “Food security is as important to this country’s future well-being – and the world’s - as energy security. We need to produce more food. We need to do it sustainably. And we need to make sure that what we eat safeguards our health.”

The government will aim to make it easier for small suppliers to access contracts by, for example, splitting deals into smaller chunks. It also intends to promote fairer supply chain practices – such as a reasonable spread of profit and risk-sharing between buyers and suppliers - and cut food waste. 

But campaigners have reacted angrily to the strategy. Jeanette Longfield, coordinator of food campaign group Sustain, said: “The government’s ‘food vision’ is hardly worthy of the name. The document proposes a series of minor tweaks to our fundamentally unsustainable food system and ignores obvious ideas to help British farmers, like improving the food that government itself buys.”

Last year sustainable food procurement was branded a mess by Sustain, while the Countryside Alliance found departments were failing to record and monitor how much local produce they purchase. 

Later in 2009, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs admitted the government must get better at measuring progress on the issue

The Competition Commission has suggested the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills appoint a retail ombudsman to oversee supermarket supplier relationships, but the government is yet to respond to the proposal.

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