Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has prescribed Cornish clotted ice-cream to improve the health of hospital patients and help reverse the decline of British food being served by the public sector.
The Secretary of State has hailed the menu at Cornwall’s hospitals, and wants its “buy local” ethos to be adopted across the NHS, schools and prisons.
Mr Paterson thinks spending a much bigger slice of the public sector’s £2.1 billion food and drink budget on domestic produce will boost British farming.
But he also suggests homegrown meals can be cheaper and healthier.
In a speech last week, he highlighted the award-winning Cornwall Food Programme – which serves 100,000 portions of food a month to Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, Penzance’s West Cornwall Hospital and St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle – as a “great example”.
Mr Paterson told a dairy conference in Glasgow: “They have increased the amount of fresh, local food they use.
“They have started serving a local clotted cream ice-cream, which not only tempts patients to eat, but actually saves money as fewer elderly patients need powdered drink supplements to make sure they get enough calories.”
The Secretary of State has just appointed Sir Peter Bonfield, an experienced retail leader, to lead a new drive on the public procurement of food. He is expected to produce proposals in June.
In his big farming speech of the year at the Oxford Conference last month, Mr Paterson bemoaned the fact 24% of food eaten in the UK is imported despite “top-class” production on home soil.
Some 57% of fresh meat served by the catering firm for his Whitehall department – the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – is British, with the remainder being sourced from the EU.
But critics have pointed to the fact details on what is cooked in other Whitehall kitchens is sketchy, and questioned whether the Government can claim it is leading by example.
The Western Morning News, which has long supported the “buy local” ethos as a way of boosting the Westcountry’s vital farming industry, revealed last year the coalition has ditched an audit recording how much UK-produced fayre is served in Whitehall canteens.
The last 2010 audit – published as part of the so-called Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative – revealed wild variations in departments adopting the “buy British” ethos.
For example, not a single rasher of bacon served to the armed forces in the field was British and British beef was only being sourced 4% of the time in the Home Office headquarters.
But Mr Paterson now appears to determined to tackle the issue.
He told the conference: “I am looking at how we can improve the way public procurement policy operates for food and catering services so that it can contribute to a competitive UK food and farming sector.
“I’ve asked Peter Bonfield to lead our drive on this. The public sector bought £2.1 billion worth of food and drink last year.
“That’s an astonishing amount of money. Government purchasers should be taking advantage of our top quality products.
The NHS Cornwall Food Programme says it tries wherever possible and feasible to use local ingredients.
Since June 2008, the Cornwall Food Production Unit, which runs the programme, has produced over 1.4 million portions for patient meals.