DEFRA is spearheading moves to help public bodies such as schools and hospitals source more British food without breaking EU competition law.

As part of a review of public sector procurement launched this week, food and farming minister Lord Whitty will look at whether small producers are being given a fair chance to compete for contracts and whether public sector bodies should pay more attention to environmental issues, animal welfare and freshness when buying food.

Although it is illegal to stipulate that schools or hospitals buy British, setting up contracts that insist on products that are fresh, seasonal or supplied in degradable packaging for example, would effectively mean sourcing them locally, said Sir Don Curry, who chairs the group overseeing the government’s sustainable farming strategy.

“There is a real commercial opportunity for the farming industry. However, if our producers are to play their part in this, government and industry must work together to ensure that they can supply enough fresh and wholesome produce at the right price.”