A handful of potatoes

Sustain campaigns for end to food standards ‘loophole’

CIEH backs Sustain campaign for public institutions to buy homegrown produce to support British farmers and improve standards
14 April 2022 , Katie Coyne

Campaign urges members to write to MP to close loophole that stops compliance

Sustain believes that a get-out-clause means approximately 50% of public institutions are avoiding complying with Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF) if it involves a “significant increase in costs”. The campaign group wants the loophole closed.

Every year, public institutions spend £2.4bn on food and they are supposed to follow GBSF, which lay out higher environmental, nutritional, and animal welfare standards. GBSF mandates around verifiably sustainable fish, as well as traceability, authenticity and seasonality, using sustainable palm oil, reducing salt and sugar intake, and increasing fruit, vegetable and fibre consumption.

Sustain believes a clause means around half of public institutions are not meeting GBSF and it wants the loophole closed, arguing thousands of institutions already serve food with the higher standards within budget, so the cost argument is moot. It is urging members to write to their MP to ensure these changes are made in the food strategy white paper due to be published next year.

“By buying better local produce it could also be kinder to the planet and help tackle climate change. We need to see a proposal to change the law in the new year.”

Ruth Westcott, Sustain campaign coordinator said: “This should be a win-win for the government. Instead of wasting millions of pounds on bad food they could be using their massive buying power to support the British farmers working hard to meet high standards, spending more taxpayer money in rural communities and providing millions of people with healthier food.

“By buying better local produce it could also be kinder to the planet and help tackle climate change. We need to see a proposal to change the law in the new year.”

Kate Thompson, CIEH Director Wales said: “CIEH is backing Sustain’s campaign calling for changes to government buying standards so more taxpayers’ money is spent on high quality British produce which is both healthy and sustainable in schools, hospitals and other public canteens. This is consistent with one of the recommendations in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy”.

Rob Percival, Soil Association Head of Food Policy argued that spending in this way was an investment. He said thousands of schools and hospitals were already working with its Food for Life scheme serving seasonal, freshly prepared menus and that each £1 spent through the programme delivered £3 in social value to local communities.

Andy Jones, Chair of the public sector catering group, PSC100 agreed that many of its members were already serving “amazing” food but argued government leadership was needed to ensure this happened across the board.

The campaign brings multiple concerns together: with global food production creating 35% of greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging higher environmental standards can help the UK meet its net zero target commitment.

The proliferation of food banks, and the cost of living crisis has sparked concerns that nutritious, quality food is beyond many people’s means. Brexit means the UK is making new trade deals, with countries that can have lower environmental, food, and animal welfare standards. Charities, organisations and individual experts have warned that this must not lead to a downward spiral to lower quality, cheaper, foods, that are produced to lower standards.


Image credit: Shutterstock

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