The NDP is calling on the B.C. government to step into food procurement by hospitals that neighbour on key food-producing areas of the province like the Fraser Valley.
NDP leader Adrian Dix said in a news release that an FOI request sent to the Fraser Health Authority showed “there are no formal policies in place that involve the provincial government using its purchasing power to promote locally grown food in area hospitals, though they neighbour key areas of the Agricultural Land Reserve.”
However, the FHA’s food purchases are handled by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.
“We don’t track the locally sourced food items simply because they are seasonal and we always buy in season through our contractor Gordon Food Services,” said Anna Marie D’Angelo, senior media relations officer at the VCHA.
She said local menu items served fresh include fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apples, peaches, blueberries and all the berries, green beans and broccoli.
Chilliwack MLA John Les, a dairy farmer turned politician, said it’s all very well to encourage individuals to buy locally, but the quantities required by health authorities and the seasonal nature of produce makes it a more complicated matter.
“I’m not aware of any producer in the Fraser Valley geared up or able to produce food in the way or in those quantities and at the price health authorities can afford,” he said.
And at the end of the day, he said, food purchases come out of the health care budget.
“Health authorities are trying to focus as much of their budget as they can on patient care,” he said.
Les called the NDP plan “simplistic” because “when the rubber of reality hits the road, it’s not that easy” for hospitals to buy locally.
However, Dix said 33 states and provinces, including Ontario, already have policies in place for government-funded bodies to use their institutional buying power to support and promote locally grown and processed food.
“That’s what we’d like to see more of,” Dix told Black Press, adding that the FHA’s contractual agreements don’t preclude it from buying locally.
“There’s clearly room to buy local to improve the quality of food,” he added.
According to a recent survey of acute care patients in the FHA, only 54 percent of those who responded found the food served in area hospitals satisfactory.
D’Angelo suggested that’s not surprising since the sodium content of hospital food is reduced for health reasons.
“Most people’s diets are too high in sodium, so when they come to hospital they feel the food is bland,” she said.
“We are always adjusting our menus to support the better health of patients and residents, and buying local, when we are able, is one of the ways we do this,” she said.
The FHA serves about five million meals to patients and residents every year, she said, spending about $9.7 million.