Schoolchildren, hospital patients, and public sector workers could be served local, sustainable, and healthy food all within their budgets, according to a new campaign.
Connecting local farms and the public sector would be a “win-win” for the government according to sustainable food alliance, Sustain, and could support British farmers while providing nutritious and sustainable food in public institutions.
Over two billion pounds a year are spent on public sector catering and could be spent on supporting local, sustainable farming instead of “wasting millions of pounds on bad food,” said Ruth Westcott, campaign coordinator for Sustain, speaking at the organisation’s AGM held last week.
A loophole currently allows food suppliers to the public sector to ignore government environment and animal welfare standards if meeting them incurs “a significant increase in costs”.
As a result, only 50 per cent of public institutions meet these standards, according to Sustain, which has launched a new campaign to ask the government to close this loophole in the white paper that is due in response to Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy.
“This should be a win-win for the government,” said Westcott. “They could be using their massive buying power to support the British farmers working hard to meet high standards, spending more taxpayer money in rural communities, and providing millions of people with healthier food.”
Meanwhile, small-scale farmers and suppliers have started collaborating to try and access lucrative public sector contracts, where they are currently discouraged by prohibitive bureaucracy and the preference for scale and efficiency.
The system, known as ‘dynamic food procurement’, aims to connect local small and medium farmers directly with the public sector and pool their resources to fulfil larger contracts via an online platform.
Speaking on a webinar recently, chief executive of the platform, called Equilibrium Markets, Rich Osborne, said: “It allows the public sector to procure directly from multiple primary producers.
“Whereas in the past, the stereotypical procurement framework results in one big supplier or maybe two or three big suppliers, supplying everything.”
Trials of the new scheme in Bath and Somerset schools showed that it can lower costs and reduce environmental footprints by reducing food miles. As a result, dynamic food procurement has been directly recommended by The National Food Strategy.
Another initiative to get better food into the public sector is the Soil Association’s Food for Life programme, which helps schools, hospitals, and care homes to buy sustainable, healthy food by linking them with agroecological suppliers and providing resources for cookery classes or food growing, as well as farm tours.
However, Rob Percival, the head of policy at the Soil Association said: “This is despite, not because of, national procurement policy.”
The Food for Life initiative demonstrates the benefits of linking local farms with the public sector for the community and beyond, said Percival.
“Each pound spent through Food for Life delivers over three pounds in social value to local communities, benefiting both producers and local food businesses,” he added.