THE NFU has long fought for better relationships between retailers and farmers, but its president also has the government’s buying practices in his sights.
In an exclusive interview, published in April’s Footprint, Peter Kendall refers to food procurement within central government as “lax”, and says the economic crisis is no excuse for allowing standards to slip.
“To me it is absolute height of hypocrisy for government to say that it is going to regulate and raise the bar for our domestic farmers because it thinks it is important, but when it comes to [the government] buying food it’s not important. That sort of hypocrisy really does my members’ heads in.”
Kendall also calls for “more help” to challenge the government on the issue. He has written to all government departments asking for updates on their progress against the Government Buying Standards (GBS) for food, but only “some” have responded. The standards, launched in 2011, require a third of public-sector institutions – including government departments, prisons and parts of the armed forces – to buy food that meets nutritional, environmental and ethical standards. Schools and hospitals are encouraged to follow the standards. Two years on, and little information is publicly available, apart from tables hidden away in the appendices of documents on the DEFRA website. DEFRA says it will be publishing more GBS results this year. However, support is building for a wider analysis of public food procurement.
The discovery of horse DNA in various meat products has acted as a “wake up call”, says Kendall, and shows that food prices cannot be pushed lower and lower without consequences.
Kendall also highlights the “bloody horrible” weather and why some talk of climate change pisses him off. “I can cope with incremental temperature increases, but what I can’t cope with is four inches of rain in one night in August when I am trying to harvest, or snow in April during lambing. My challenge to government is to help us.”
However, he is keen not to portray farming as an industry that goes cap in hand to government for more handouts and higher subsidies. It’s about making the sector “more resilient” he says, as he explains his desire to turn recent crises into opportunities.
- The full interview is available in April’s Footprint, out this week.