School and hospital food should be local
A Westcountry food project which aims to source as much produce as possible from the region to make hospital meals is a prime example of how buying local can help boost the rural economy, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is to tell a national conference today.
Mr Paterson is today urging schools and hospitals to buy more food produced in their local areas to support the 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).
Mr Paterson will point to the Cornwall food programme which supplies the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske, St Michael's Hospital at Hayle, and the West Cornwall Hospital, Penzance, 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 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 Western Morning News has long promoted a Buy Local campaign, which aims to encourage companies and consumers to source as much of their produce from the region as possible – locally-sourced to boost the rural economy.
Bill Martin, editor of the Western Morning News, said: "Buy Local has been the Western Morning News's premier campaign message for more than 20 years.
"It is the best way people can support farmers and producers, as well as their local shops, pubs and everyone involved in supporting the rural economy."
Mr Paterson is also to tell the delegation that the Government, farmers and industry are looking at how to make it easier for businesses to grow in the UK market. He is to tell them: "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."
His speech comes months after the Government came under fire after scrapping a register naming and shaming Whitehall canteens, hospitals and prisons failing to serve British food. Defra was accused of "incompetence " for no longer collecting procurement data, despite being charged with persuading people to buy more domestic produce.
In a written parliamentary question, Defra said it "does not hold figures relating to the source of food purchased by central government directly". But as recently as 2010 it published a report on the "proportion of domestically produced food used by government departments and also supplied to hospitals and prisons". Defra argued the register was a "one-off initiative" that ended in 2009 but critics said it was disappointing that Defra, which champions British food, had no idea how much British produce was being bought by government.