Public sector caterers serving billions of meals a year in schools, universities, hospitals and care homes have pledged to cut the amount of meat they serve by 20%.
The caterers’ meals are eaten by a quarter of the UK population and the groups said their action was aimed at reducing environmental impact and improving the healthiness of meals. Industry experts called the move unprecedented.
People in rich nations, such as Britain, eat more meat than is considered to be healthy. Studies have also shown that meat consumption must be slashed to tackle the climate emergency and other environmental crises such as water pollution arising from the high impact of livestock.
International studies have suggested cuts of up to 90% are needed, but in January the UK’s official climate change advisers recommended a 20% consumption reduction.
David Foad, editor-in-chief of the magazine, said: “It represents a bold move, because it is not being mandated. It would have been much easier to sit back and wait until they were either prompted or forced into action like this by government.”
Some experts have suggested meat taxes are needed to bring about change.
Foad said that attaining the 20% target would remove 9m kg of meat from plates every year, equivalent to 45,000 cows or 16 million chickens.
Andy Jones, who chairs the PSC100 group of caterers and suppliers working to improve the health of meals, and is also a former chair of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA), said: “The carbon emissions savings and the potential benefit to people’s health can play a part in tackling climate change and shortening NHS queues.”
The HCA has signed up to the pledge. Craig Smith, the association’s chair, told Public Sector Catering that the people it served were already moving away from meat. “The biggest rise we are seeing is those demanding a more plant-based diet.”
Matt White, chair of the University Caterers Organisation, said: “[We are] fully committed to the #20percentlessmeat initiative. We have a very short window of opportunity to make changes in the way we all eat or we will have done irreparable damage to our planet and to future generations.”
The National Association of Care Catering has also backed the move, but its chair, Sue Cawthray, said it would require work to implement. “I would say our biggest challenge to meeting the 20% target is the mindset of many of those currently in care homes. The majority would have been brought up on a staple diet of meat and veg and will be resistant to change.”
Stephen Forster, chair of LACA, (the Local Authority Caterers Association), which represents 3,300 school food providers, said: “The school food industry is leading the way on meat reduction. Schools across the country have meat-free days and are increasingly introducing plant-based vegetarian and vegan options. We therefore support the campaign.”
Philip Mansbridge, director at the campaign group ProVeg UK, said: “Never has the public sector made a commitment of this magnitude. By making simple and effective adaptations, all public sector caterers will soon find more of their meals are healthier, more planet-friendly and equally or more delicious.”
Jones said: “The huge range of people we feed every day means we can influence the diet of the nation. I, for one, don’t want to be known as part of the generation that could have acted, even in a small way, but did nothing.”