Buy British fruit and veg to help economy, minister says

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Shoppers should buy more British fruit and vegetables to boost the economy, the environment secretary has said.

Owen Paterson said 24% of food eaten in the UK is imported despite "top-class" production on home soil.

He told the Oxford Farming Conference that farmers and manufacturers must "take action" to encourage consumers.

But it has emerged that 43% of meat served in Mr Paterson's own departmental canteen is imported.

In his speech, Mr Paterson said the public sector should be supporting the UK's world class farmers and their top quality products.

He praised the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Trust for buying 92% of its food from the UK, saying it had saved a significant amount of money by sourcing locally.

Figures supplied by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show approximately 57% of the fresh meat served by the department's catering provider is British, with the remainder being sourced from the EU.

Owen Paterson Mr Paterson says the government is taking steps to help farmers

The Department said gammon and bacon had always been bought from the EU while beef, lamb, chicken and pork joints are all sourced from the UK - as are its eggs and milk

Defra's catering providers say they are "fully committed to supporting British farmers and growers" and champion "the use of great British produce and seasonal British ingredients''.

'Huge opportunity'

Mr Paterson said there was a "huge opportunity" for farmers, manufacturers and the government to promote UK produce.

"By buying seasonal fruit and veg we can improve the nation's health, help the environment and boost the economy," he said.

He added: "As British farmers and food producers you know that we grow some of the best food in the world here - so why is 24% of the food eaten in the UK imported when it could be produced here?"

"We have a top-class fruit and veg sector which produces everything from green beans to strawberries, yet we imported £8bn of fruit and veg in 2012.

"We can't grow mangoes or pineapples, but we can encourage UK consumers and food businesses to buy Scottish raspberries or Kent apples."

Mr Paterson also said changes to livestock movement rules will save farmers and taxpayers £70m over 10 years, while reduced bureaucracy will help farmers and improve prevention and control of diseases such as bovine TB.

These changes, which follow recommendations from the Task Force on Farming Regulation, will take effect from 2016.

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