Targetting public food procurement

Should the UK Government set a target to source more publicly-procured food from within the UK? 

The Environmental Audit Committee has today published findings and recommendations from its inquiry on ‘Environmental Change and Food Security’. This includes a call for UK Government to set a target for half of public money spent on food to be produced within the local area or to higher environmental standards. This is hot on the heels of the Food Ethics Council’s Food Policy on Trial event, which interrogated expert witnesses on whether there should be an ‘80% from UK’ target for publicly procured food.  

The Environmental Audit Committee noted: 

“The fact that the Government currently only has an “aspiration” for half of public money spent on food to be produced within the local area or produced to higher environmental standards is a missed opportunity. The Government should turn its ambition on public procurement into setting a target, and should set mandatory environmental standards for publicly procured food.” 

Dan Crossley, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council, responding to the EAC’s new report said: 

“We welcome EAC’s report and the vital connections it highlights between food, farming, the climate emergency and biodiversity loss. One of the EAC’s recommendations – having a target for public institutions to source more food from the local area – is a crucial first step. Doing so can provide pride and purpose to local farmers, whilst making it easier for citizens, who may not otherwise be able to, to access local food. This would be a vital shift in a food system that severely disconnects people from the food they eat. Localised food systems can produce food that is fresher, seasonal and nutritious, whilst also supporting local economies and reducing our carbon footprints. 

However, ‘how’ food is produced is arguably more important than ‘where’ it is produced. Local doesn’t always equate to better. This was one of the key messages emerging from our recent Food Policy on Trial event, which explored the idea of UK-sourced public food with expert witnesses and jurors. We therefore urge the EAC’s recommendation on public procurement to be strengthened to be a target for ‘half of public money spent on food to be produced within the local area and to higher environmental and welfare standards’. Targets must capture the complexity and nuance of food production.”