Food Procurement – buy local or buy cheap?
Posted by Hailey Thomson on November 16, 2009
MP’s have been urging local authorities and other public sector bodies to support local farmers and source their food within the UK. I can only assume this is for contracts under the EU procurement thresholds, otherwise how can public sector bodies award £2 billion worth of food contracts just within the UK? When I initially started this article I agreed, why shouldn’t we get to eat nutritious, carbon friendly, local food? Why shouldn’t the UK get to support their local farmers? It is public money, right? It is not quite that simple, local food may not always be the cheaper or most environmentally friendly option. DEFRA has told us a million times, it is more sustainable to grow and import a tomato from Spain than it is to grow one here in the UK.
Nick Herbert spoke at the Conservative Party conference in early October, and stated that the Labour’s failure to back domestically produced food was shameful. There is a big difference between sourcing domestically produced food and sourcing sustainable food. What happens in the bitter cold months of the winter when all we get to eat is a plate of mashed turnips? That is right Mr. Herbert, there is not too much choice after the autumn harvest. Now if Mr. Herbert had stated Labour’s failure to back sustainable food was shameful, well then he would be right. Sustainable food procurement is a far more practical solution for everyone. Furthermore, sustainable food procurement falls within the regulations of the EU laws Article 23(6); we can’t all just start awarding contracts to local people because we feel it will help the local economy. Of course it will help our economy, but that is just not the way it works. Why wouldn’t we start limiting all goods and services to the UK? EU Public Procurement Directives state you may limit your choices based on environmental characteristics, but nowhere does it state you may limit your choices based on geographical characteristics. I think this is an excellent compromise, if the product is more eco friendly to buy from outside the UK, then that is what we must do. Let’s not forget it is farming and fishing that contributes to a third of all our UK greenhouse gas emissions.
Food miles, low carbon, eco-friendly, farm to fork, call it what you want, the point is there are strict EU rules we have to follow. These rules have been set up to protect public money from being wasted. If we are looking to protect the environment when purchasing food, then all avenues need to be explored. Don’t assume because your tomatoes have come from the farmer down the road, you have made the right environmental decision and don’t assume buying your organic, free range, cruelty free lamb chops from New Zealand was the right decision either. Weigh up your options and procure smartly and sustainably and only then can you make the right decisions.