THE FACT THE GOVERNMENT has failed to meet a sustainability target is not surprising (page 8). This is a government that has gone from the greenest ever to red-faced. Who can forget the Chancellors attack on environmental measures in October: Were not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business.
Its also no secret that Defra, the Governments lead department on sustainability wields little power in Whitehall. The food buying standards that it is failing to meet are meant to be met by all central departments, but the Minister in charge, Jim Paice, is believed to be struggling to wrest any information from colleagues across government. Have all other caterers been made aware of all the standards, for example? Who knows?
What we do know is that in the current climate, price is king. As one caterer put it at a Footprint Forum earlier this year: We havent ever gained or lost a job based on our sustainability it often comes down to price.
This could have been a factor in Defras decision to change caterers earlier this year. Ironically, had it stayed with BaxterStorey, it would be meeting the majority of criteria in the new standards including that for fish, according to Sustain.
But the fact Defra, and thus Eurest, is not meeting what appear relatively weak standards (McDonalds has much stronger standards in certain areas of sustainability) is not the only concern. There is also the strange dynamic apparent between a customer with a huge public spending budget (Defra) and its caterer.
The idea that Defra has forgotten it is a customer and can lay down demands is concerning. Even more so that it doesnt appear to understand them. The fish standard is simple: dont buy any fish on the Marine Conservation Societys fish to avoid list, and buy only fish on its fish to eat list or that which has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
In January, Defra should publish an update on how its doing. Its unlikely that itll be able to convince any other departments to, but perhaps caterers should push the agenda? Theres a good news story here for those that are hitting the standards many of whom dont shout enough about their progress (page 20). These standards are supposed to set an example for hospitals and schools too, as well as the public. Is this the chance for the foodservice sector to take the bull by the horns and lead where the Government has failed? Lets not be left red-faced; lets show our true colour: green.