There are tens of millions of pounds worth of hospital food contracts that British farmers are not getting a fair crack at.
About £500m is spent on meals for hospitals each year and about 40% of it is bought in from outside the UK.
Farmers Weekly has launched a major campaign calling for hospitals to buy more British food and for the government to upgrade buying standards to give home-grown food the chance to compete with imports.
Our call is founded on a survey of more than 200 National Health Service Trusts, making it the most comprehensive investigation to date into hospital food sourcing.
Lifting the lid on hospital food revealed a mash of buying policies that vary from hospital to hospital.
Some have passed all responsibility to outside contractors. More than two-thirds admitted they didn’t even know where food had come from. Which, post-horsemeat scandal, is staggering.
Those that did know revealed food is shipped thousands of miles – vegetables from Ecuador, lamb from New Zealand, beef from Brazil, chicken from Thailand – the list could go on.
Much of it comes in below British farm assurance standards and the cost to the planet of burning the fuel to get it here is conveniently overlooked. The government believes taxpayers are getting a good deal.
But are they? We don’t think so.
Our investigation found that a bottom-dollar price at source can equate to a waste of money in the long run.
We uncovered beacons of excellence, hospital trusts that really do care. Trusts such as the Countess of Chester NHS Foundation have swapped travel-weary imports for fresh local produce.
The Chester Trust found fresh British food needed less energy to cook and there was less wastage, so its food bill fell. Its food spend is now among the lowest across Britain. That alone should be a compelling enough argument for the government to think again.
But we want to do more.
Two years ago the government launched buying standards for its central departments – DEFRA, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Defence and HM Prison Service. They had to meet a commitment to buy food that was produced sustainably.
Crucially, it left out the NHS, which accounts for the biggest slice of the food spend. It means convicts eat sustainably produced food while patients get second best. A situation Farmers Weekly believes needs addressing as a matter of urgency.
To be fair, DEFRA did look again at the standards last autumn. But since then it has dragged its heels on change and stopped short of prescribing that food should meet British assured quality.
In just one move it could, within EU law, have given farmers a fighting chance to compete. It failed.
We think it’s time that changed. Our campaign is calling for government buying standards to encompass the NHS and include a commitment to meet our production criteria.
We want you to get involved by signing our petition online.
But this campaign is not about shouting at the government. By highlighting the good hospitals in our survey we aim to show it is possible for taxpayers and patients to Get Better, Get British.
Visit the campaign website to sign our e-petition calling on the government to change the way NHS trusts set procurement policy for supplying hospital food