Procurement around the provision of food in schools needs to improve because the current system is “teaching children to dislike fruit and veg”, the Soil Association has warned.
Over £40m is spent annually to provide a piece of fruit or a vegetable for four to six year olds each day but the "produce is typically low quality", said the Soil Association.
In a report the charity said freedom of information requests had revealed only 13% of apples and 5% of pears are sourced from the UK. "These long supply chains mean the produce is shipped around the world, and is often lacking in freshness, so there’s also a high level of waste," said the report.
Rob Percival, the Soil Association’s head of food policy, said: “The School Fruit and Veg Scheme is broken. Not only is the produce often lacking in freshness and of low quality, but data shows that the produce contains higher pesticide residues than equivalent produce found on supermarket shelves, including pesticides associated with a negative effect upon children’s cognitive development.”
Percival told SM that central to improving the situation was the establishement of a sustainable network of mainly British farmers and learning from public sector best practice.
Percival highlighted the need to learn from case studies including the National Trust’s recent regionalisation of supply chains and the Dynamic Food Procurement scheme, which gives small producers access to public sector markets.
Untapped potential also lies in the effective use of the DEFRA Balanced Scorecard tool, which provides “straightforward criteria, such as cost, to be balanced against more complex criteria, such as health and wellbeing, resource efficiency and quality of service when making procurement decisions”.
The Food for Life Served Here scheme, started in 2015, incorporates "a wide range of product assurance schemes including Red Tractor and other farm assurance schemes, Fairtrade, LEAF Marque, Marine Stewardship Council, Freedom Food and Organic, and will generally guarantee good or excellent performance by caterers against the award criteria in the balanced scorecard”.
Percival said opportunities provided by post-Brexit farming policies could open the door to a new agricultural policy framework that supports farmers as food producers.
In October environment secretary Michael Gove announced a pilot scheme to tackle food waste in retail and manufacturing would begin in 20219-20, following figures that show 205,000 tonnes of food was wasted in these sectors in 2017.