Seeking views on possible changes to public sector food and catering policy.

Closed 4 Sep 2022

Opened 13 Jun 2022


Government is adopting an ambitious and transformational approach to public sector food and catering. We are determined to use public sector purchasing power to ensure positive change in the food system. Our vision is that public sector food and catering is an exemplar to wider society in delivering positive health, animal welfare, environmental and socio-economic impacts.

We have developed a set of proposed changes to public sector food and catering policy, including the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF), to deliver this vision.

Our objectives are to:

  1. Promote procurement of local, sustainable, healthier food and catering.
  2. Open up public sector supply chains to a wider range of companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to better support local economies, increase resilience, and encourage food producers to innovate. 
  3. Increase transparency of food supply chains to drive continuous improvement and build our understanding of what is bought, served, sold and wasted in the public sector. 
  4. Provide guidance and standards that:
    • are simple and engaging
    • reflect latest scientific evidence and national sustainability priorities
    • clearly align with broader Government policies, such as the Defra waste hierarchy guidance and Government dietary recommendations

The current Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services set out a range of mandatory and best practice standards for public sector organisations to apply when procuring food and catering services. These standards relate to food production, processing and distribution; nutrition; resource efficiency; and socio-economic considerations. Currently the GBSF is only mandatory within central Government Departments (e.g. catering in government buildings), the NHS (patient, staff and visitor catering in hospitals), the armed forces and prisons, as per the Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 10/14 published in November 2014.

The nutrition standards within the GBSF were recently reviewed, updated and published in July 2021 alongside supporting technical guidance. However, the other standards relating to social, economic and environmental sustainability and animal welfare have not been updated since 2014.The wider social and policy context has evolved since 2014, with a greater focus on net zero and levelling up – key drivers of the Government’s Plan for Growth. The standards therefore need updating to reflect these priorities.

In 2021, public sector food procurement was the subject of an inquiry within the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee and has been featured in Henry Dimbleby’s independent National Food Strategy Report. Recommendations from both reports include:  

  • updating the buying standards to ensure procurement of healthy, sustainable food
  • making the standards mandatory across the entire public sector
  • improving and monitoring compliance with the standards
  • opening up supply chains to a wider range of businesses 

These recommendations have been considered within the proposals of this consultation.

Why your views matter

Why we are consulting you

This consultation is expected to be of greatest interest to public sector contracting authorities, food business operators, the food industry, Government departments and agencies, local authorities, consumer groups and public bodies. We also welcome the views of any individual or organisation that has an interest, directly or indirectly.

We would like to hear your views on the proposed changes to public sector food and catering policy, as laid out in the accompanying document. We would like to know whether you think that the proposed policy changes are feasible in practice and will achieve our vision for public sector food and catering.

The policy De Minimis Assessment demonstrates that the proposed changes present minimal costs to businesses, as far as we are aware. We would like to hear from the sector on whether there are any cost implications not accounted for.

The consultation contains questions across five sections:

  1. Some information about you
  2. Public sector organisations in scope
  3. Fair and transparent procurement guidance principles
  4. Changes to the government buying standards for food and catering services
  5. Data reporting proposals

Some questions may be more relevant to some respondents than others. If you are unable, or do not want, to answer a question please select 'Not applicable' or move onto the next question.

What we are proposing to change

Currently, public sector food and catering policy comprises two main documents: the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF), and the balanced scorecard – a methodology for evaluating contract tenders.

In the new proposed policy, we have combined content from the GBSF and the balanced scorecard, streamlining the two documents into one. We have also added data reporting proposals to make the policy more robust and ambitious. Further support and guidance on implementing the new policy will be developed, based upon the fair and transparent procurement guidance principles, following the consultation when the policy is finalised.

A summary of the major proposed changes are as follows:

  1. New fair and transparent procurement guidance principles.
  2. A new ambitious target that 50% food spend is on food produced locally or certified to higher environmental production standards.
  3. Updates to existing standards so they reflect latest scientific evidence and national sustainability priorities, and clearly align with broader Government policies, such as the Defra waste hierarchy guidance and Government dietary recommendations. 
  4. Additional new standards. These include standards on soy, local culture and diversity and customer satisfaction.
  5. New data reporting requirements.

How to respond

The consultation will be open for 12 weeks from 13th June 2022. Responses should be received by 11:59pm on 4th September 2022. Our preferred way of receiving responses is through the online Citizen Space platform.

If you are unable to use Citizen Space, you can download the consultation documents and return your response by email to

Alternatively, you can print the consultation documents out and return your response by post to the following address:

Consultation Coordinator
Defra 2nd Floor, Foss House                                            
Kings Pool, 1-2 Peasholme Green, York

Once we have had the opportunity to consider the responses to the consultation, we will publish a response on GOV.UK.

Campaign responses

We recognise that respondents may choose to use some standard text to inform their response. Campaigns are when organisations (or individuals) coordinate responses across their membership or support base, often by suggesting a set of wording for respondents to use. Campaign responses are usually very similar or identical to each other. For this consultation, campaign responses may be analysed separately to other responses to ensure the breadth of views received can be summarised effectively and efficiently. All campaign responses will be taken into account in the final analysis of public views and campaigns help provide an indication of the strength of feeling on an issue. The preferred route for all respondents to provide their views (including where a response is based on a campaign) is via the Citizen Space platform.


  • Public Bodies


  • Sustainable development
  • Waste and recycling
  • Food standards