NORTHERN farmers and growers are hailing as a major breakthrough a government plan allow public bodies to buy food direct from local producers, rather than have purchasing decisions made by city-based civil servants who put price before quality.
The government spends hundreds of millions a year on food for facilities like army camps and RAF bases, prisons, hospitals and canteens in hundreds of departments but, until now, that food has been ordered in bulk - sometimes from foreign suppliers - with "best value" being the only yardstick.
During the foot and mouth outbreak two years ago, suspicion fell on meat bought for army camps from South America, where the disease is endemic. Although this was never proved, farmers were furious that the Government was going overseas to source food supplies.
Earlier this week, DEFRA announced a major review of food purchasing policy which could allow local managers to buy high quality produce locally.
Now, the Country Land and Business Association has issued a statement welcoming the review and Northern Regional Director Douglas Chalmers says it could present one of the biggest marketing opportunities ever for Northern farmers and growers.
He added: "This market is worth £1.8 billion per year, and if this review allows local producers to be competitive in the eyes of the buyers, it presents an exceptional commercial opportunity for farming as a whole.
"Government has been extolling the virtues of food safety, animal welfare, nutritional quality and environmental impact, and yet sourcing its requirements based on other factors."