LAST MONTH’S British Food Fortnight had the DEFRA press office in overdrive. There was the first regional British Food and Farming Plan event, a “new call for food labels to meet growing demand for local produce” (albeit using old research), millions in rural support funds and another “review of public sector food-buying habits to understand where more support could be offered to local dairy farmers”.
The environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss, said: “I want to support the industry to become more resilient and ready to take advantage of the growing demand for British dairy both at home and overseas. That’s why we are urgently pursuing a range of measures to build on best practice in the industry, provide better promotion of our world-class products, and boost support for local producers from the public sector including government departments, schools and hospitals.”
It’s good news indeed that Truss has managed to convince Number 10 to move from the traditional Whitehall-centric comfort zone of public food procurement policy (the current buying standards are only applicable to central government). A spokeswoman tells me that the review will consider more than just dairy products and show the proportion of public-sector pounds that are spent on British food and drink.
But the spotlight is on milk. Central government is doing its bit already, spending £11m with British dairy farms: “All fresh milk and more than 90% of butter and cheese bought in central government is British.” Those are decent volumes but more pertinent in the current climate, surely, is whether the government is paying a fair price for its milk?
That figure is proving harder to find. Have things changed since the times of Jim Paice – the farming minister at the time of the last milk crisis three years ago who infamously didn’t have a clue what the price of milk was because his wife bought it?