DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has called on hospitals and schools to buy more food locally, in line with Farmers Weekly‘s recent Get Better, Get British campaign.
Mr Paterson told the local Government Association’s Rural Conference in Warwickshire that the move would boost the rural economy by supporting British farmers without increasing costs to the taxpayer. It would also reduce food miles.
“As well as promoting exports, we need to make a significant dent in the 22% of food that’s imported but could be produced here,” Mr Paterson said.
“We’re now looking at how we can work together with the industry to make it easier for businesses to grow in the UK market. Businesses alone won’t make a big enough impact, we in government need to play our part,” he said.
“The government has set public procurement standards for food through the Government Buying Standards (GBS). I believe that local government has a huge part to play in supporting, and benefiting from, this agenda,” Mr Paterson added.
Farmers Weekly‘s campaign, launched in this summer, called on the government to press authorities to increase the amount of British food in hospitals.
The Get Better, Get British campaign included a Freedom Of Information request to more than 200 British hospitals.
The request showed that just two-thirds of hospital food was British and the rest was shipped from countries across the world.
The campaign urged the government to roll out the GBS to the National Health Service. The standards would help stop cheap imported food undermining better quality British produce and give UK farmers a chance to compete for a bigger share of the £500m annual spend on food for patients.
A key factor in the campaign was to show how some hospitals were acting as beacons of excellence in buying locally and pumping millions of pounds into the local economy.
In his conference speech Mr Paterson praised these hospitals, highlighting the Cornwall Food Programme, which supplies the Royal Cornwall Hospital as well as St Michaels and the West of Cornwall Hospital, as a great example.
“They have increased the amount of fresh, local food they use. This has boosted the local economy, reduced environmental impacts and improved the quality. These improvements have been made with no additional cost as we seek to spread best practice across the country,” he told delegates.
Visit the Get Better, Get British campaign page and sign the petition