Call for mandatory standards in public sector food

THE procurement of all public sector food in England should be subject to mandatory standards covering health, environmental impact and animal welfare, Government advisors have concluded.

The move would cut out sub-standard imports and stimulate new demand for high-standard British produce.

The public sector spends approximately £2 billion on food procurement every year but the Government’s Council of Food Policy Advisors said voluntary measures had ‘failed to deliver systemic change’ in public sector buying habits.

The Council published its second report to the Government on Monday (March 16) and urged Whitehall departments to lead consumers by example by lifting their purchasing standards.

“It is time for the Government to make good on the goal set out in the Cabinet Office’s Food Matters report by introducing mandatory standards.

“A transformation in public sector catering could play a significant role in encouraging a shift towards healthy, low impact diets,” read the report.  

The report added the Government could and should directly influence public sector catering ‘and the hundreds of millions of meals it provides each year in England’.

In addition the Council recommended the Government to focus on the consumer in its efforts to promote healthy diets and environmentally sustainable food production.

Dr Tom MacMillan of the Food Ethics Council said it was good advice.

“Making sure that high environmental standards are the norm rather than an expensive luxury is one of the best ways of making sustainable diets accessible to all. This can only come about through government and industry commitment to sustainable production systems,” he said.

But while the Government mulls over its newly received advice, the Conservative Party will point to its election pledge to introduce mandatory standards last month.

Under a Tory Government all Whitehall departments would be required to procure food that meets British standards of production, where it can be achieved without increasing overall costs. 

“We don’t want to stop there,” said Nick Herbert, shadow Defra secretary, when he announced the commitment in February. “We want to lead a sustainable procurement drive across the public sector, in schools, hospitals and local authorities. 

“We’re taking this action because we care about local food and we care about the countryside. If only the same could be said of this Government,” he added.

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