UK public sector ‘wants to buy more British food’

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

Hammonds End Farm owner Stuart Roberts addresses attendees from the public sector and the food processing industry. Credit: Carlos Farinha
Hammonds End Farm owner Stuart Roberts addresses attendees from the public sector and the food processing industry. Credit: Carlos Farinha

Related tags Agriculture

Several figures from throughout the British food supply chain met in Hertfordshire on 20 March 2024 to discuss how public sector providers can better work together with farmers and food producers.

Hosted at Hammonds End Farm in Harpenden, the event was organised by campaign body Love British Food and featured a working group focused on promoting collaboration between farmers and the public sector.

Public sector figures present included Phil Shelley, chair of the NHS Food Review and national lead for net zero food at NHS England, as well as Tim Radcliffe, net zero food programme manager at NHS England.

They were joined by representatives from universities, local councils, hospitals and public sector catering bodies, as well as food manufacturers spanning meat and poultry, dairy, potatoes and cereals.

Before the working group began, the guest were invited for a tour of Hammonds End Farm by its owner Stuart Roberts, who previously served as NFU deputy president. During the tour, Roberts discussed the day-to-day workings of the farm and pointed out the ways in which operations had changed in pursuit of sustainability and ecological targets.

Roberts is contributing to the Liberal Democrats manifesto ahead of the next general election and praised Love British Food for leading the way in “promoting British food and farming to the public sector”​.

'Event can provide farmers with confidence to invest the public sector'

After the conclusion of the tour and lunch the working discussion began, with one attendee raising the point that British farming has been too focused on supplying supermarkets, overlooking foodservice and the public sector.

Another said that the tendering process across the public sector has shifted in recent years, with sustainability and quality taking on greater importance. Price remains central to the tendering process, they added, but less so than in the past.

Meanwhile, attendees on the production side said that “buying British for British’s sake” ​was not a desirable outcome, and that it is only worthwhile when the farmers are developing high-quality, sustainable and tasty produce through methods that adhere to “some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world”.

Another key point of discussion centred on the nutritional value of British food. One attendee said that studies into how farming methods impact the nutritional value of food are in the works and hold much promise for the future, but that it remains difficult to jump to any sweeping conclusions just yet.

Elsewhere, a producer said that the use of emission calculators is increasing, but improvements to the technology need to be made. They argued that these calculators can have a big impact in cutting out greenwashing and ensure that people can trust the environmental claims they read.

“This is the first time that public sector leaders, providers, suppliers and farmers have gathered together to discuss the supply chain,”​ said Shelley.

“Momentum is building as we in the public sector, want to buy more British food. I hope this event provides farmers the confidence to invest in supplying the public sector helping us, as buyers, to understand the true value of buying British. There will be plenty of frank discussions I am sure. What better place to have them, than on a farm.”

Roberts added: “I am looking forward to working with the public sector to share the true societal and environment value of buying British, and lead farmers to understand the commercial opportunity of supplying schools, hospitals and other institutions.”

In other news, almost 200 people working for AG Barr are facing redundancy.

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