ORGANIC FOOD AND GPP
Organic food is recognised in the Green Tenders document as delivering on its green credentials and the sector has the potential to become a major food supplier for the public sector.
This is already happening throughout Europe, where organic food has been embraced on public menus in many countries. Organic food is the only certified sustainable system of food production in Europe, and this has given it a major boost in supplying GPP contracts.
So in an Irish context, how is organic food positioned to supply GPP?
Organic production has a production base of just 1.23pc of the total agricultural area of Ireland, so there are obvious problems with potential supply of organic food and the geographic dispersion of organic producers is another possible barrier to distribution. Continuity of supply is essential to meet contract demands, particularly in the case of large public bodies.
However, the reality is that if GPP contracts for organic food were introduced, the industry would immediately find ways to meet the demand. The existing organic beef, lamb, aquaculture and dairy processors already have adequately scaled production to fulfil 100pc of GPP requirements, as well as supply networks for both local and centralised distribution.
This is a classic chicken and egg situation. A demanding market will attract greater supply but a market cannot develop without a supply.
From an economic point of view, using GPP to increase the amount of Irish organic food used would reap dividends. Recent CSO figures show high volumes of beef, pork, chicken and dairy being imported into Ireland, with much of this food destined for the catering sector. Using GPP criteria to displace imports and substitute with Irish organic ingredients would be a positive economic move that would see public expenditure on food used to support Irish producers.
Other European countries are way ahead of Ireland on this score. The Danish city of Copenhagen, for example, insists that 75pc of the food served in its public kitchens is organic. (See case study panel below). The Danish government plans to roll out this programme nationally and have 60pc of all food served in the country's public kitchens organic by 2020.
Other EU member states such as Italy, in particular, have embarked on similar projects, using organic ingredients in schools and hospitals. This has given a much-needed boost to the organic sector and the rural economies in those countries.
Looking forward, the potential support for short supply chains outlined in the new Rural Development Plan would sit well with a separate GPP support measure, should we choose to utilise it.
Here at home, pilot projects have already proven the idea can work.
In 2009, IOFGA general director Gillian Westbrook designed a pilot project to procure organic ingredients for the workplace canteen in the Marine Institute in Galway.
The project identified ingredients that suited the menu and catering style of the canteen, while adhering to food safety management systems in operation. Organic ingredients were sourced in the local region, using producers who met approved supplier controls for contract caterers.
The end result of the project was that food waste was significantly reduced when organic meals were offered, and staff feedback was also very positive in terms of taste, quality and menu choice.
Grace Maher is a development officer with IOFGA