Industrial livestock farming and meat consumption find themselves regularly in the spotlight, as governments, industry, and civil society work to mitigate climate change.
Elsewhere, the progressively popular ‘Veganuary’ is increasing the accessibility of animal product-free lifestyles in many regions. And widely publicised scientific research into human and planetary health, such as the EAT-Lancet diet, is associating a global reduction in red meat consumption with environmental benefits.
While in the UK, one-third of UK consumers have either reduced their meat intake, or removed it from their diet completely, meat remains a staple food item for the vast majority.
This is reflected in the public catering sector, which serves 45m metric tonnes of meat every year to schools, universities, hospitals and care homes across Britain. The environmental impact of this is not insignificant: 45m metric tonnes generates 1.04m metric tonnes equivalent of greenhouse gases.
Now, members of the catering sector are banding together to reduce the amount of meat on their menus and in doing so, address their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
The #20percentlessmeat campaign was launched by chair of the public sector catering PSC100 Group, Andy Jones, and has attracted support from key businesses.
Jones stressed that the campaign is not about ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and encouraging people not to eat meat, nor it is about supporting a diet fad. “It is about the health and wellbeing of us all and contributing to a needed reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.”
PSC100 alone counts big names Unilever Food Solutions and Friesland Campina among its partners. The campaign has also been supported by the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA), the National Association of Care Catering (NACC), and university caterers’ organisation TUCO, among others.
These players have revised menus to offer a wider choice of meat-free dishes, as well as reduced the amount of red meat on offer.
According to Jones, the movement came from an opportunity many in the public catering sector felt they had. “We can do more than simply educate our customers now,” he explained. “The huge range of people we feed every day means we can influence the diet of the nation and at the same time contribute the wider drive to limit environmental damage.”
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. That would, in any case, mean ignoring what our customers are asking of us, and I don’t believe any caterer would do that. – Chair of PSC100 Group Andy Jones.
If the catering sector commits to a 20% reduction of meat across the UK, it is estimated that over 200,000 metric tonnes of carbon emissions could be saved.
The estimated 45m kg of meat served in schools, hospitals, universities, care homes, the Ministry of Defence, and prisons would be cut by about 9m kg – which would mean relying on 45,000 fewer cows or 16m chickens.
And in relatable terms, the pledge would have the same environmental effect as removing more than 400,000 cars from the road for a year.
Backing the movement
The initiative has also attracted support from ProVeg International, which aims to reduce global animal consumption by 50% by 2040.
The ‘food awareness’ charity’s executive director, Philip Mansbridge, suggested this is the first time the public sector has made a commitment of this magnitude, for both the ‘good of the planet’ and the ‘good of the people’.
“20% Less Meat is exactly the kind of dynamic, effective initiative the industry can cooperate on and all that is needed is some small changes.
“By committing to this pledge and 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,” he said.
Eating Better – an alliance that advocates for less and better meat and dairy consumption – similarly welcomed PS100 Group’s initiative. “We are keen to support the PSC100 in their efforts in this area including considering the target number and date, how it is measured and how they can ensure the remainder of the meat and dairy served is from farmers that work in a nature friendly way.”