Prince Charles recommended the establishment of “hubs” of public sector organisations to buy food from local farmers, it has been revealed in the latest of his letters released under Freedom of Information legislation.
The prince suggested hospitals, schools and other bodies could collectively buy from farmers, which would “massively reduce transport costs and food miles, while contributing greatly to local economies and to patient and pupil health”.
In a letter to then Labour health secretary Alan Johnson from July 2008, Charles gave examples of five NHS trusts in Cornwall and also wrote about Mike Duckett, head of catering at the Royal Brompton Hospital, who sourced food from “local farmers’ hubs”.
“Mike says that buying seasonal, fresh (and, wherever possible, organic) food, has ensured patients enjoy better quality and more flavourful food, which has retained its natural nutrients and so their health has, of course, benefitted,” wrote the prince.
“And because they enjoy eating it, waste has been minimised (which was enormous because so few people wanted the re-heated food brought in by catering contractors).”
Charles said the “highly imaginative and innovative initiative” clearly “ticks many of the appropriate boxes as far as enhanced sustainability, local sourcing, lower food miles and better patient health are concerned”.
“I therefore wanted to put it to you that if such an initiative could be organised – and I cannot see why it couldn’t – the ideal would be to create local hubs, not just of hospitals, but of schools and other public sector bodies too, which would buy local food from hubs of local farmers,” he said.
In response Johnson revealed in 2006/7 there were 12.5 million “untouched meals” across NHS hospitals, or 8.92 per cent of the total meals served.
In a letter dated August 2008 Johnson said: “The Cornwall and Brompton projects indicate that sustainable food procurement can be very successful, although there are significant factors that need to be considered in terms of wider adoption, such as capital investment requirements, partnership working and the local situation.
“My department will therefore be commissioning best practice guidance to encourage the NHS to adopt sustainable food procurement. The development of the guidance will identify the benefits of local procurement, different potential approaches, practical advice and best practice.”
Prince Charles’ correspondence with the government is being published by the Cabinet Office following a campaign by The Guardian newspaper. Previous disclosures showed the prince’s support for the role of a supermarket adjudicator.