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Opinion: Food Insecurity 20/07/2018, In the press

By Rich Osborn, Founder & CEO, fresh-range.com 

I recently read this article in The Guardian which said: "The...report comes a year to the day after the government was warned it was 'sleepwalking' into a post-Brexit future of insecure, unsafe and increasingly expensive food supplies".

Now call me naive, a political novice, or perhaps over optimistic, but I’m going to stick my head above the parapet and say it: I genuinely believe the government want to establish a good food strategy for the UK. 

I have had a unique insight into government aspirations and plans since I have been appointed onto DEFRA’s Taskforce for public sector food procurement and, whilst I may have my personal differences with the current government and am a staunch Remainer, I can tell you I truly believe we are heading in the right direction. 

Fresh-range have led the way with our approach to public sector food procurement taken together with Bath and North East Somerset council. Some have called our approach ‘innovative’ and ‘ground-breaking’, but to be honest it’s just doing what we would all agree is totally common sense. It’s about getting sustainable, fresh produce from local farms onto the plates of school children, hospital patients, civil servants, service personnel and prisoners. We’ve used a balanced scorecard to ensure food is sustainable in its production and supply and we’ve found a way to break down barriers of procurement that have historically precluded producers from supplying public sector. And we’ve used our tech and logistics to bring it all together for chefs.

We’ve shared this approach with DEFRA’s support and increasing endorsement and helped launch a National Advisory Board in dynamic food procurement with a team of policy and practice experts. We are on track to establish this approach nationwide with interest expressed from many of the UK’s biggest cities.

Why is this important? Well, as a nation we are food insecure. We source half our veg and more than 90% of our fruit from abroad. Huge proportions of our grocery shop and school or hospital meals depend on food carried on ships, trucks and planes from other countries. We have a multi-billion pound food trade deficit and we have grown all too accustomed to our food coming from anonymous sources via our shop at supermarkets or when we eat in restaurants. It’s not a position of strength going into Brexit. With significant numbers of people unable to access fresh food and with potential Brexit fuelled supply shortages and/or price rises (some price increases have already happened due to sterling’s devaluation) the already shockingly high prevalence of food poverty in this country could become even worse.

The government spends over £4billion a year on food and catering services in the UK. So, diverting this spend to a regional procurement, fulfilment and delivery approach can stimulate demand for sustainable local food. It will drive up local production and supply from existing (and potentially new) farmers doing things in an environmentally, socially and financially sustainable way. It’s about putting the countryside to work for major urban centres nearby and ensures produce travels less. We thus avoid additional cost, quality deterioration and potential fossil fuel related air pollution and carbon emissions. It can bring about a transparency and accountability for food production that is so lacking today. It can give SMEs in the region around our big cities an opportunity to expand production upon a foundation of sustainable, predictable demand. 

Of course, fresh-range can help these same producers reach private household grocery shoppers too with its online store, fulfilment and delivery infrastructure. So, the government’s enduring dedication to enable local food producers to supply public sector is a critical first step. It is an enabler for more of us enjoying more fresh, local, sustainable produce from the farms around us every day.

Rich Osborn. 
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