Food standards deadline puts big purchasers under spotlight

LONDON has put all big authorities under pressure by making Olympics year the deadline for a commitment to British standards as far as possible for food purchasing.

The Greater London Authority Group, which includes the Metropolitan Police, London Fire Brigade, Transport for London and other bodies answerable to London mayor Boris Johnson, has made a Sustainable Food Procurement Commitment which it hopes will be a leading example.

Although Buy British is not a permissible policy under European Union rules, farmers have argued for some time that farm assurance requirements could be used to achieve practically the same end.

The London commitment includes:

All food to be traceable to its source, using the Red Tractor scheme at minimum for farm produce;

Free-range eggs to be purchased and a proportion of chicken and pork products to be RSPCA Freedom Food certified or equivalent,

Boris Johnson's deputy, Richard Barnes, said: 'We are determined to ensure that public money is spent fairly and with maximum benefit to Londoners.

"This means using our purchasing clout to buy goods and services that have minimum impact on the environment and generate jobs, apprenticeships and training."

The National Farmers Union said the commitment was "a boost for British produce" and it hoped other public authorities would follow the example.

So what progress have Yorkshire authorities made towards supporting their own farmers?

Wakefield Council said: "The council doesn't specify Red Tractor standards but does include sustainability criteria, including social and economic benefits where appropriate. Typically the amount of produce sourced in the region is over 60 per cent."

A Leeds Council spokeswoman said British buying was encouraged by requirements for minimum food miles and British farm assurance standards for beef, lamb, pork, fruit and vegetables. But she could not give an overall figure.

Bradford Council said: "About 65 per cent of food is sourced from the UK. Tenders request suppliers to demonstrate how they can support the use of locally sourced, seasonal, high welfare and sustainable produce."

Sheffield Council said: "The percentage of the council's spend from S post-code suppliers has gone up from 46 per cent in July 2008 to 72 per cent in September 2010. The council is also undertaking the re-tender of the School Catering Contract and is working to ensure local food producers are best placed."

For Hull Council, head of procurement Stuart Ross said: "We have developed a logistics solution that will allow many small producers the opportunity to do business with Hull City Council."

Richard Ellison, regional director of the NFU, said: "The GLA have shown that sourcing British produce makes sense."