Meat consumption in schools, hospitals, universities and care homes will be reduced by a fifth thanks to a new commitment from public sector caterers.
The initiative – 20% Less Meat – could represent the most comprehensive united action on sustainable menus the industry has ever seen, according to campaigners.
LACA, ASSIST FM, HCA, NACC, TUCO and PACE are all supporting the target.
“We can do more than simply educate our customers now,” said Andy Jones, chair of the public sector catering PSC100 Group, which is coordinating efforts. “The huge range of people we feed every day means we can influence the diet of the nation and at the same time contribute [to] the wider drive to limit environmental damage.”
A quarter of the UK population are fed by the public sector, with 2.1 billion meals served every year.
Jones said this was not about “jumping on the bandwagon … nor is it about supporting a fad diet”.
Indeed, according to the school food standards, schools should “encourage all children to have a meat-free day each week, using alternatives such as pulses, soya mince, tofu and Quorn”.
But moves by caterers to reduce the amount of meat on menus are not always well supported.
In Edinburgh, for example, there was a backlash – from parents and farmers – when schools joined the Meat Free Monday campaign.
The Independent reported in February how a number of schools were struggling to encourage children to eat vegetarian or vegan options. Kids were therefore going home hungry.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said at the time: “It is perfectly reasonable for schools to offer vegetarian-only lunches. Any menu needs to be tasty, healthy and nutritious, and this can easily be achieved with vegetarian meals. It is one meal in a day, and there are plenty of other opportunities to eat meat for those who wish to do so.”