Outcry from farmers over Soil Association’s call for reduced meat in schools

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Soil association Organic Livestock

British farmers have taken to social media to voice concerns regarding the Soil Association’s suggestion that the government instate a ‘plant-based protein’ day in schools.

British organic certification body, the Soil Association, has called for a weekly ‘plant-based protein day’ in all state-funded schools.

According to Rob Percival, who heads up policy for food and health at the Soil Association, moving to one meat-free day per week is a step in the right direction in combatting climate change and reducing obesity rates.

“We know children would benefit nutritionally from eating more beans, pulses, and plant-based proteins and the climate would also benefit – we should all be eating less and better meat.”

The recommendation comes as the Department of Education (DfE) reviews its School Food Standards for all state funded schools.

“The updated School Food Standards should require that all schools serve a plant-based protein day each week. The current, non-compulsory advice for a meat-free day is too weak,” ​said Percival.

As it stands, the School Food Standards encourages children to have a meat-free day each week, using alternatives such as pulses, soya mince, tofu and meat substitute Quorn. However, according to the Soil Association, “few schools are doing it and, when it does take place, options are often restricted to less healthy options like cheese laden pasta or pizza”.

A panel, which counts Public Health England among its members, will review the School Food Standards update this year.

Farmers object: ‘Why do I pay these people?’

The Soil Association’s position has been contested by a number of farmers, who argue that Percival’s statement is not representative of the association’s members.

According to Scotland-based Peelham Farm – which produced organic meat and charcuterie – the Soil Association’s stance is not in the interests of promoting organic farming.

A Soil Association member from organic Woodland Valley farm in Cornwall has similarly questioned the recommendation, suggesting that it is industrial farming, and not organic meat production, that is responsible for environmental degradation.

US-based farmer Andrew Gunther has also lamented the Soil Association’s position:

Soil Association responds: ‘We can’t shy away from the need to change diets’

The Soil Association has since released a statement further detailing its stance on climate change and health. “We can’t shy away from the need to change diets if we’re serious about tackling climate change,” ​writes the association.

“An agro-ecological future for farming that works for nature, climate and health means there has to be a crucial role for grass-fed ruminants. We must also find ways to overcome the barriers to feeding food waste to pigs and poultry.

“The focus of the drive for less meat in our diets should be on phasing out intensive farming of pigs and poultry, which is driving antimicrobial resistance, diverting up to two thirds of cropland to produce livestock feed and driving rainforest clearance, with devastating implications for climate and biodiversity loss.” – Soil Association

The certification body says its job is to “provide radical and practical solutions, so that the right actions are taken. This sometimes means grappling with difficult messages.

“It’s time to make better meat normal in schools, and less meat is part of this.”

With a focus on better meat, and less of it, the association says we can ease our impact on the planet. “This means supporting children to eat differently too.”


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