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Local Food Sourcing

Volume 508: debated on Thursday 25 March 2010

5. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on steps to increase local food sourcing by the public sector. (324051)

Earlier this month I met Ministers from the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families to discuss ways of improving the sustainability of food that is procured for those Departments. I have also written to Ministers in all relevant Government Departments to make sure that they are personally backing this agenda, which includes strong support for regional and local food.

I thank the Minister for that reply. He knows that 2009 was another difficult year for many British farmers. Will he explain why Government procurement of British food actually fell during that year, and in particular, why NHS procurement dropped sharply? Why are the Government failing to back British farmers and British food at this time?

I am sorry; I do not recognise the statistics quoted by the hon. Gentleman to show that Government Departments across the board are moving backwards. We believe that we are making good progress on this subject. A recent report says that 13 out of 21 Departments have increased the amount of home-grown food that they serve as a percentage of all food supplied. Two have remained the same and three have gone down. For the others, there is no comparable data relating to the year before. We do not pretend that there is no room for improvement—of course there is—and we are working hard to address the issue in the meetings with ministerial colleagues that I mentioned and through the exchange of correspondence among Departments. The latest figures are a year behind and I believe that we will see further progress this year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to get people to understand the importance of local sourcing, we have to educate children and families? Does he share my concern about a Natural England survey showing that the likelihood of a child visiting any green space has halved in a generation? Is it not about time that we opened up the countryside and showed children where food is grown?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are indeed working hard with the DCSF and other organisations to promote school visits into the countryside so that children can learn where their food comes from and be encouraged to grow some food on their school premises. More and more schools are engaging in that. Under the eco-schools project, about 1,000 green flag schools are finding out where food comes from and are growing their own as part of a holistic approach to the environment. My hon. Friend makes a very good point; we will continue to work hard on that agenda.

I am afraid that the Minister’s attempt to spin these figures will fool no one. Only last month he told us that he hoped they would show improvement, but the reality is that the figures show that the Government are sourcing a declining proportion of British food—less British poultry, less British beef, less British lamb and less British pork. Some Departments are not buying a single rasher of British bacon. What kind of leadership and example does it show when this Government purchase a lower proportion of British food than the country as whole? Is it not time that we had a Government who cared about British farming and who bought food only to sustainable British standards?

We need the best of British producers to be able to tender for and win the big public and private sector contracts both at home and abroad. We are doing what we can to help promote the sustainability criteria and the animal welfare criteria and we will do everything we can to encourage Government Departments to procure British products.