25 June 2010 | Andy Allen
UK environment secretary Caroline Spelman has told cabinet colleagues all food sourced by their departments must meet British standards where possible.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that Spelman told all departments food must meet Red Tractor or other approved food standards labels, even if bought from abroad.
The scheme is due to be extended to the entire public sector including schools, hospitals and prisons.
The spokesman said: “The government is committed to ensuring that food procured by government departments and eventually the whole public sector meets British standards of production wherever this can be achieved without increasing overall costs.
“We know that some departments are already buying a high proportion of food that meets British standards of production and therefore it should be possible for others to do the same.”
Defra said individual standards would vary depending on the commodity but examples of standards included the Red Tractor food assurance scheme, Quality Meat Scotland and the RSPCA Freedom Food Scheme.
The department also stressed that Spelman was not urging government departments to “buy British” – which would go against EU law.
The Defra spokesman said the scheme was not designed to restrict the geographical origin of food procured by government departments but to “level the playing field” by increasing quality standards.
Spelman has also announced that the government hopes to have a new supermarket ombudsman in place by the end of this year.
The ombudsman will arbitrate disputes between big supermarkets and their suppliers. Currently talks are taking place between Spelman and business secretary Vince Cable, under whose department the ombudsman will sit.