We are hearing more and more about the concept of public money for public goods. In other words that public money should be spent in a way that benefits public health and our surroundings, be of benefit to people and the planet.
In several countries, a significant amount of public money is spent on catering in schools, hospitals, care homes, universities, and government buildings.
Putting organic produce on public catering menus is a great way to raise awareness about organic food, give the community greater access to nutritious, sustainably produced food and increase the demand for locally grown organic food. It is a major step toward achieving a sustainable, organic food system.
For example, the town of East Ayrshire, in Scotland, which invested in sustainable school meals that included organic and local products, calculated that it achieved a Social Return on Investment Index of seven Euros, meaning that for every euro spent, the county is producing an investment worth EUR 7 in environmental and socio-economic benefits.
When public procurement policies go organic, they can have a major impact on increasing the consumption of organic products, and can also raise awareness of the benefits of organic food and farming.
Should it focus solely on strengthening the organic sector or should it be combined with other policy goals such as rural development or improving children’s nutrition?
As a policy measure, it is most effective in well-developed organic sectors. Sectors still in the early stages of development can focus on local measures e.g. an organic purchasing program for schools targeting one or more organic products. Furthermore, it is also worth considering the scope of the policy.
There are a number of routes that policy can take to support the public procurement of organic at various governmental levels, from national governments to municipalities. Let us look at how policies have been put into practice around the world.
The European Union
In 2008, the EU Commission started promoting Green Public Procurement as a voluntary instrument to promote green purchasing among public authorities.
Substantial efforts have been made at the national government level to promote organic procurement. In 2011, the government established a goal of 60% organic in all public kitchens by 2020. Almost EUR 8 million is allocated (under the 2015 organic action plan) for the period 2015- 2018 for assistance to public kitchens to significantly increase their use of organic raw materials. Additionally, the government offers advice to public institutions wishing to transition their kitchens to organic.
An additional EUR 3 million is designated to support other public purchases of organic products. The Ministry of Defense has a pilot project to purchase organic products, and the Ministry of Health promotes organic procurement by hospitals. The association Organic Denmark has played a big role in instituting public procurement programs in the country. For example, it led a mobilization in the supply chain, bringing farmers, food companies, and food service firms together to ensure supply and widen the assortment of organic food being offered in the food service industry. This was supported by financing from The Fund for Organic Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment and Food.
Organic Denmark also trained sales staff in the food service industry. In 2012, the government established a team of advisors to help municipalities write their tenders for public procurement, so as to prioritize organic purchases. This was financed with around EUR 2.3 million over three years.
The city of Malmo with about 300,000 inhabitants started in 1997 to increase its organic food purchase for school lunches. In 2010, a policy for Sustainable Development and Food was approved by the local government council, which included the goal that 100% of food served in the city’s public canteens be organic by 2020.
This policy produced rapid results. By 2012, nearly 40% of the food budget, valued at EUR 9 million, had been spent on organic food. This example is one of many in Sweden, where municipalities and councils adopted a policy aiming at using organic foods in public catering, in particular in school meal catering.
The change is supported by a network, called Ekoköket, in which professionals and practitioners involved in the organic conversion of catering discuss common problems and potential solutions.
On a regional level, Andalusia developed a program called “Organic foods for social consumption” as one of the main actions of its First Organic Action Plan. The program is the result of an agreement among five different Regional Government Departments (Agriculture, Environment, Equality, Social Welfare and Health). It started in 2005 in school canteens providing organic food to around 3,000 students, involving four organic farmers’ groups supplying local canteens of 16 elementary schools, five nursery schools and one home for the elderly.
By 2007 the program involved 56 schools with 7,400 students with a turnover of EUR 208,000. The program supports the creation of new farm businesses and cooperatives of organic farmers from different parts of Andalusia so that, together, they can offer a broad diversity of organic foods to schools and other public canteens.
On a national level, The Food Acquisition Program (PAA) launched in 2003 supported the purchase of diverse, locally produced food from family agriculture and preferably from sustainable systems, which helped small organic farmers gain market access for their products.
In 2009, the National School Feeding Program (PNAE) set an objective to purchase at least 30% of the products for school meals from local family farmers, prioritizing organic foods. It also required that organic products be purchased from farmers at a 30% price premium.
The program feeds 47 million students each day in Brazilian public schools. In 10 years, more than 3 million tons of food from over 200,000 family farmers have been purchased. The annual budget was around EUR 1.6 billion in 2013. These programs have not only provided strong incentives for conversion to organic agriculture, but also generated income for smallholder farmers, and gave universal access to organic food.
Several states and municipalities in Brazil have passed laws that set targets beyond what the national Brazilian School Feeding Program requires. For example, the city of Sao Paolo passed a decree in 2016 setting a target that by 2026, 100% of the two million school meals offered in the city every day should be organic. This decree contains a detailed plan of how this target is to be progressively achieved over 10 years. Another example is the State of Parana which, in a 2010 law, also set a target of 100% organic school meals served to its 1,3 million pupils.
California’s Sausalito Marin City School District is the first in the nation to serve their students 100 % organic meals. Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City and Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito serve organic food year-round to more than 500 students in a partnership with The Conscious Kitchen, a project of the environmental education nonprofit Turning Green. Meals are accompanied by nutrition and gardening education. The Conscious Kitchen first tested the program starting in August 2013, and noted that over the course of two years, disciplinary cases decreased and attendance increased. The program will be replicated in 14 schools.