Environment Secretary urges public sector to buy local food
A Westcountry food project which aims to source as much produce as possible from the region to make hospital meals is an example of how buying local can help boost the rural economy, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is expected to say today.
Mr Paterson is urging schools and hospitals to buy more food produced in their local areas to support economic fabric of the countryside.
Public sector organisations have a role to play in buying local produce, which supports British farmers and can cut food miles without increasing costs, he is expected to say in a speech to the Local Government Association’s rural conference in Warwick today.
The rural economy is worth £211 billion a year, and supports a third of businesses, despite being home to just one fifth of the population, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
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Mr Paterson will point to the Cornwall food programme which supplies the Royal Cornwall Hospital, St Michael’s Hospital and the West Cornwall Hospital, which has increased the amount of fresh, local food used.
“This has boosted the local economy, reduced environmental impacts and improved the quality. These improvements have been made with no additional cost. Imagine the impact if every school, care home and leisure centre were buying from their local area,” he is expected to say.
The Cornwall Food Programme, which has run since 2001, aims to source as much produce as possible from the region and promotes suppliers to develop commercial links with the NHS. More than 75 per cent of all ingredients come from local sources, one of the highest levels for any NHS trust in Britain.
The programme began when it was realised that sandwiches were travelling 200 miles to reach patients at The Royal Cornwall Hospital and a plan was set up to find ways of getting more local fresh and seasonal foods into the hospital catering systems.
Food and farming is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector but in 2011, the UK imported nearly £37.6 billion worth of food, compared to exports worth £18.2 billion.
Mr Paterson is to tell delegates: “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.”
The Government, farmers and industry are looking at how to make it easier for businesses to grow in the UK market, he will say. “Businesses alone won’t make a big enough impact, we in Government need to play our part. The Government has set public procurement standards for food through the Government Buying Standard. I believe that local government has a huge part to play in supporting, and benefiting from, this agenda.”