Farm minister Jim Paice has slammed his own ministerial department for failing to meet government standards for buying food.
Mr Paice vowed to make changes in DEFRA after it emerged it had missed targets to ensure 10% of the food it procured met higher environmental standards.
The Government Buying Standards, which came into force from 16 September, aim to make sure government catering met criteria around sustainable food sourcing.
Despite hiring a catering contractor which had proved it could deliver cost-effective and sustainable food, the contractor has told DEFRA that only 3% of the food it served met the higher environmental standards such as organic or LEAF-accredited.
DEFRA said the caterer had been unable to identify enough supplies to meet the criteria but it had been told it needed to address the issue “as a matter of priority”. Department officials had also told the caterer that it needed to show “a secure and credible audit trail” of meat and dairy products to ensure they meet UK or equivalent standards.
Mr Paice said DEFRA’s failure to meet the Government Buying Standard targets was unacceptable.
“We’ve said that all food served in DEFRA should meet UK standards of production and that all of our fish must come from sustainable sources and I’m not prepared to accept anything less,” he said.
“These are not optional extras. It’s completely unacceptable for our caterers to miss any target and I’m going to make sure this is sorted out immediately.”
A DEFRA spokeswoman added: “We treat Government Buying Standards not as our highest aspiration, but as the minimum standards we expect. “We will work closely with our caterers to ensure that they meet and aim to exceed all aspects the government Buying Standards for food and catering.”