New HSE tender: €50m for “climate-friendly” plant-based food

The HSE is to allocate fifty million euros of public money to secure “climate friendly” food in its facilities, Gript Media can reveal.

A prior information notice – a document customarily published ahead of a formal tender – allocates the €50m to a supplier who will be expected to “promote the consumption of plant-based food” across the Irish health system, including HSE hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities.

The contract will extend to supplying food, managing food waste, and securing ingredients. The winning bidder will also be expected to fully account to the HSE for the carbon dioxide emissions involved in producing and supplying every meal. Tenderers will be incentivised – or perhaps mandated, depending on feedback from interested parties – to upgrade their transport fleets to electric vehicles, and the HSE will pay a premium to help them do this.

In a covering letter accompanying the tender, the HSE says that all future tenders for food in the system will be subject to so-called “Green Public Procurement” (GPP) which is designed to implement so-called climate friendly policies at every level of the public sector.”

The document says that “The Climate Action Plan 2023 (the “CAP 23”) has confirmed the Irish public commitment to mandate the use of GPP Criteria in procurement processes using public funds.”

It goes on to say that “In terms of the specific aims of the HSE, the HSE Climate Action Strategy 2023 – 2050 (the “HSE Climate Action Strategy”) seeks to align purchasing decisions with the HSE decarbonisation and sustainability goals”, and that “The HSE plans to include GPP Criteria of some form in all future food and catering services procurements from as early a date as is practicable.”

The new contract will also discriminate in favour of suppliers who use “zero emissions” vehicles to transport their food, with the HSE saying that it is considering making it mandatory for all food to be transported to their facilities in zero-emission (read: electric) vehicles.

One supplier working in a related field told Gript media that he estimated that this would drive up the final cost to the taxpayer “by hundreds of thousands” per year, since the state is effectively offering to pay a premium to individual suppliers to buy new electric vehicles under the guise of a food contract for the HSE.

“No private sector organisation would operate this way”, the same supplier said. “In what other field of life would a catering company be judged not on the quality of their food, but almost entirely on the emissions produced by their food?”

The tender document’s specific requirement to “promote plant based food” was also a major source of concern to a doctor working in a HSE facility, who did not want to be named.

“Where did this come from?” the doctor asked. “There is no medical reason at all to be specifically promoting plant based foods on HSE facilities, and indeed for some patients this may not be suitable. It seems to me that the menu in HSE facilities is set to be much more about carbon emissions than it is to be about patient health, and surely this is deeply wrong?”

So-called “Green Public Procurement” is being rolled out across the whole of Government by the present administration and is considered vital for the country’s efforts to meet its carbon emissions targets by 2030. However, critics have noted that these targets are largely unachievable, and that GPP amounts to a “hidden” government subsidy for so-called green technologies which are not profitable on their own.

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