If only the Government would eat its words
The Government's Environment Secretary Owen Paterson wants schools and hospital meals to be bought locally. And quite right too!
We share his enthusiasm and have supported and celebrated the efforts of thousands of individuals and businesses who make the effort to support local shops and local farmers.
To the UK as a whole the rural economy is worth £211billion, and supports a third of businesses despite being home to just one fifth of the population. Food and farming is by far the UK's biggest manufacturing sector, but in 2011 the UK imported nearly £37.6 billion worth of food. Exports were worth £18.2 billion.
To make significant impact on that balance, and to offer really significant support to local food producers, public sector buyers have a huge role to play.
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Mr Paterson told the Local Government Association that the UK needs to make a real dent in the 22 per cent of food that is imported – and that could be produced here.
"Businesses alone won't make a big enough impact, we in Government need to play our part," he said.
This will be music to the ears of thousands of West Country farmers and businesses who strive every day to produce food of the very highest quality and meeting the very highest standards of welfare and husbandry. The issue for them will be that they have heard all this before.
Governments of all colours are always happy to bask in nationalism when it suits. Ashes victories, Royal occasions, you name it.
Yet when it comes to supporting the country in ways that really matter – like buying British food for British government departments and institutions – their flag-waving support seems to desert them. Earlier this summer it emerged that the Government had scrapped a register naming and shaming Whitehall canteens, hospitals and prisons failing to serve British food.
In February 2010, Defra's Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative revealed not a single rasher of bacon served to the Armed Forces in the field was British and British beef was only being sourced four per cent of the time in the Home Office headquarters. Facts like this are quite extraordinary and explain why many farmers may feel less than inspired by Mr Paterson's latest pronouncement. This is an issue upon which the whole of Government needs to get its act together.
We, and all of the West Country's food producers, welcome Mr Paterson's words. And we wait in anticipation for them to become action.