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The role of the public sector in creating sustainable food chains
· Publication: “Re-localising the Food Chain: the Role of Creative Public Procurement”
The conventional food chain “from farm to fork” currently constitutes one of the greatest challenges to sustainable development. Logistical solutions, which provide consumers with food regardless of distance and weather conditions and with low-cost products, may seem cheap at a first glance, but a wider analysis reveals hidden costs like, for instance, environmental damage and economic costs for producers and rural economies. This report, published by Kevin Morgan & Adrian Morley, the Regeneration Institute, Cardiff University, examines the effects of our food choices by illustrating the connections between the food we buy and the social, economic and environmental effects of those decisions.
Conventional food chains are characterised by intensive agriculture and large, international companies. Local food chains usually imply a more sustainable approach, including issues such as healthier diets, local markets for local producers, reduced transportation of foodstuffs and a better understanding between producers and consumers.
The public sector might play an important role in re-localising the food chain through its procurement of foods for public institutions such as schools and hospitals. A number of barriers obstruct however such a development. EU regulations, with their aim to promote European-wide competition, are pointed out as being the greatest restriction to local purchasing of foodstuffs by prohibiting explicit “buy local” policies. National legislation in the UK, for instance, works in a similar way. Other barriers include a catering culture that often favours a few large firms and tendering processes for public purchasing that are too complex for small, local suppliers.
European law is, however, slowly becoming more sensitive towards social and environmental factors. Furthermore, some Member States manage to buy locally by using a creative interpretation of EU regulations to specify for instance “quality” considerations in public tenders. The authors argue that public sector procurement has played an enormously important role in re-localising the food chain in many EU Member States, and should be encouraged in the UK. According to the authors, public policies should become part of the solution rather than the problem by fostering the growth of short and sustainable food chains.
The report can be downloaded from Sustainable Regions
In order to be able to access the document, users need to register (free of charge) on the web site.