Public food procurement a powerful tool to promote healthy and sustainable food

Updated: May 12

The concept of sustainable public procurement has been gaining popularity in recent times due to its potential to promote multiple benefits by integrating a sustainable development perspective into public procurement.



Considering the extensive demand for food by the public sector, public food procurement has the potential to profoundly influence both food consumption and food production patterns, contributing to more sustainable and healthier diets. How these effects develop depends on how selection criteria, technical specifications, award criteria and contract performance clauses are defined.


Depending on the existing policies and legal frameworks, it is possible to determine:


A) what type of food will be purchased (e.g. local, nutritious, healthy, culturally accepted),

B) what type of production will be purchased (e.g. agricultural production that ensures environmental sustainability and biodiversity conservation), and

C) from whom this food will be purchased (e.g. from local farmers or smallholders, small and medium-sized food businesses, or women, youth or other vulnerable farmers groups).


In 2016, Portugal launched the National Green Public Procurement Strategy, which resulted in the publication of several manuals with guidelines and recommendations, divided by the different goods and services that can be purchased. The manual concerning the criteria for the procurement of food products and catering services recommends for example:


- Purchasing products with integrated or organic production certification

- Introduction of specific indigenous breeds

- Purchasing seasonal products,

- Purchasing products with specific certifications of origin (DOP, IGP, ETG).


Although a progressive transition towards mandatory criteria is intended, these instruments are still voluntary and based on recommendations. Despite the possibility of establishing criteria other than "value", the lowest cost criteria continue to be the most used in tenders to select suppliers, and the most economically advantageous tender continues to be the most selected option.


However, the use of specific criteria in public food procurement can be seen as an interesting tool for the multidimensional transition towards a healthier and more sustainable food system. Public food procurement can be used strategically by integrating other policies and regulations related to organic farming, education, environmental, social, circular economy.


Food4Sustainability was invited to be present at a round table of the dissemination event of the European project EUREGA, organised by PRODECA, a state company of the Catalan government that belongs to the Regional Ministry of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda. We had the opportunity to share some of the challenges and opportunities of sustainable public food procurement, in Portugal. You can check the full event here!


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