9 February 2000
Buy British, Gill urges forces

By Donald MacPhail

FARMERS leader Ben Gill has criticised defence chiefs for turning their backs on Britain when buying food for servicemen and women.

Mr Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, has written to Ministry of Defence minister John Spellar voicing concern at the ministrys buying policies.

The MoD buys 75% of its chicken from France and 98% of its lamb from abroad – a policy that Mr Gill wants reassessed immediately.

In his letter, Mr Gill said: “Surely our government should be setting an example by buying British chicken and lamb when it is produced to some of the highest standards in the world and is some of the most competitively priced.”

Buying French chicken while France is illegally refusing to take British beef “demonstrates an insensitivity by your suppliers which is beyond my and my members, comprehension”.

Mr Gill said that agriculture minister Nick Brown had asked all public bodies to take into account of high domestic standards when buying food.

“It is time that these words were taken on-board by the MoD,” he said.

The MoD said it had striven to increase the amount of British produce it buys. It buys British when farmers can guarantee supplies and offer value for money.

The MoD now sources all beef from Britain – compared to only 13% in 1997 – after the European Commission released intervention stocks of local beef.

All of the pork and almost 50% of the gammon and bacon bought by the MoD are also home-produced, said an MoD spokesman.

He added: “We have been working with suppliers, farmers and the ministry of agriculture and there have been advances in the quantity of beef and pork we source from Britain.

The spokesman acknowledged there was still work to be done with lamb and poultry but said the MoD was “going in the right direction”.

“We have to seek value for money but do give full consideration to British produce,” he said.

The MoD looked overseas for frozen lamb because British suppliers, who provide mostly fresh or chilled lamb, could not currently meet requirements.

The MoD spokesman said moves to centralise Army Navy and RAF catering procurement in one location near Bath will improve efficiency further.