An ambitious commitment to cut meat on menus by up to 20% across UK schools, hospitals, universities, and care homes in the UK has been announced by public sector caterers. The shift follows discussions between Public Sector Catering 100 (PSC100) and Humane Society International UK (HSI UK).

The aim is to cut the food industry’s impact on the environment, and to improve health. Catering chiefs in the MoD and prisons service are also thought to be sympathetic to the aim.

HSI UK’s  programme manager, Charlie Huson, was named one of PSC’s top-20 most influential people of 2019, and participated in the PSC meeting at the House of Commons at which the reduction commitment was agreed.

The announcement follows the latest discussion among industry leaders who say they have decided they want the public sector to take a lead in improving diet and curbing carbon emissions. Public sector catering leaders have come together under the umbrella of the PSC100 Group to launch the initiative.

HSI UK estimates the carbon emissions savings from the 20% meat reduction would be equivalent to 200,000 metric tonnes, the same environmental effect as removing more than 400,000 cars from the roads for a year. The meat reduction will also save the lives of approximately 45,000 cows or 16 million chickens.

PSC100 Group chair Andy Jones 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.”

Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK said: “We are delighted at such a strong commitment to reduce the food industry’s impact on the environment, human health and animals. The boom in plant-centric cuisine in restaurants and supermarkets has been no secret in recent years, so the PSC100 Group’s decision is timely, bringing public sector catering into alignment with consumer demand.

“The environment and climate benefits of consuming less animal products couldn’t be clearer. A 20% meat reduction across schools, hospitals, care homes, universities and other UK institutions will also help improve human health, reducing burden on the NHS, as well as saving millions of animals from suffering on factory farms every year.”

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. We have been helping chefs reduce animal protein by working closely with The Humane Society International and replacing 20% of the meat in a recipe with tasty alternatives . The customer isn’t necessarily aware that the caterer has taken these steps, in fact through blind tasting we have found that in lots of cases the adapted dish can win out on taste and flavour. Little steps make big impacts and #20percentlessmeat is a little step with a great big kick, so we are urging TUCO members to get creative and deliver great meat and plant based meals that provide our customers with the choice they demand but at thesame time we are catering sustainably and reducing the impacts of our operations on the planet and its resources.”

Stephen Forster, chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association, 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.”

Craig Smith, chair of Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) said “The biggest rise we are seeing is those demanding a more plant-based diet, the current figures are astonishing; a Google Trend report claims interest in ‘veganism’ increased seven fold in the five years between 2014 and 2019. This demand cannot be ignored, neither can the claims that meat production contribute to climate change and the addition of nitrites into processed meats can cause harmful effects in the long-term. It is for these reasons that the Hospital Caterers Association is pleased to be supporting the #20percentlessmeat initiative.”

Operational plans

The HSI says in practice the 20% reduction in meat served will be achieved by a variety of different methods, depending on what is most appropriate in each sector.

These include implementing a meat-free day each week, reducing the meat content of some dishes and replacing it with other protein alternatives, and better marketing of veggie meals to encourage consumers to choose more meat-free options.