Animal Charity

Government Must Drag Public Food Procurement Standards Into the New Decade 

Now is the time to Make Food Kinder


In a recent report published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee, our Government has been urged to improve the public sector food standards to reflect the UK’s net zero climate change commitment and support higher animal welfare standards. 

Who are EFRA? 

EFRA are a cross-party committee of MPs appointed by the House of Commons to examine the spending, administration and policies of DEFRA and its associated public bodies. EFRA conduct a number of inquiries related to various DEFRA topics, from ‘Air Quality’ and ‘Pet Smuggling’ to ‘Moving Animals across Borders’ and, in this instance, ‘Public Sector Procurement of Food’. They allow organisations such as FOUR PAWS UK to feed into these inquiries through consultation responses, before publishing comprehensive reports offering both advice and critiques to the current systems. 

What did the report say? 

The UK spends roughly £2 billion on public procurement of food and catering services for public institutions such as schools, prisons and hospitals. Public sector food procurement represents a significant lever where the Government can drive its agenda on animal welfare standards, sustainability and support for local food producers. However, EFRA found through great surprise and disappointment that this lever was being poorly utilised, in particular due to the outdated and poorly enforced Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering (GBSF).  

The current GBSF benchmark for animal welfare is currently set so low that public sector menus may contain eggs from caged hens or imported chicken that falls below the UK’s minimum animal welfare standards. These outdated baseline standards for animal welfare are actually lower than the industry norm, offering zero incentive for local authorities to need to improve their food procurement policy.  

But what does this mean for you? In short, it means that school children or hospital patients may be served low welfare meat products, and that we as UK citizens have no choice in the matter. 

It was unanimously agreed that the “Government buying standards need to be urgently updated” and we couldn't agree more! Here are their, with the following specific recommendations:  

  • Overhaul the GBSF to make them stronger on nutrition and animal welfare, and to make them reflect the UK’s net-zero emission targets
  • Make the GBSF mandatory across the public sector in England, including in schools, hospitals  and local councils, which are currently merely “encouraged” to comply
  • Update the GBSF to ensure that public bodies are encouraged to source seasonal produce, therefore supporting British producers. The report also encouraged the wider rollout of Dynamic Purchasing Systems to allow smaller producers to access government contracts.
  • Remove the exemption from the GBSF which allows for lower UK food production and animal welfare standards to be procured in the case of “significant increase in costs”.
  • Improve the monitoring and enforcement of compliance with the GBSF, using existing inspection bodies such as Ofsted (for schools) and the Care Quality Commission (for NHS Trusts), or where these bodies don’t exist, monitoring via annual surveys to be published by EFRA.

What do we think? 

This report is a great step towards improved animal welfare in the public sector. Our Make Food Kinder campaign calls on local authorities to reduce meat and animal products and exclude the worst animal cruelty in the food served at public institutions. With the introduction of formal, mandatory guidelines we can ensure our money is being spent by the Government on produce that puts animal welfare first. 

Of course, there is still more to be done! With little mention on the benefits of meat reduction in achieving net-zero emission goals, we hope this will be incorporated in the future upheaval of the government buying standards to truly give our public sector food procurement the ‘3Rs Approach’. 


Animal Charity
Animal Charity

Rebecca Dharmpaul

Campaigns Officer

Becky works in the Campaigns Team at FOUR PAWS UK, managing our Make Food Kinder and Dog Cat Meat Trade campaigns. She has a background in Zoology and animal welfare within sanctuaries, with over five years experience across several animal non-profits to aid in the protection of animals, both in the UK and internationally.

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