Plant-based food for MPs

House of Commons urged to ‘lead by example’ and cut meat and dairy to help meet climate targets ahead of COP26

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 4 February 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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The food served to MPs and Ministers at the House of Commons can be made considerably more climate friendly by cutting back on meat and dairy and serving more plant-based options.

This is the headline finding of a new report by Humane Society International/UK, supported by a group of cross-party MPs.

Analysis by HSI/UK, which runs the Forward Food plant-based catering programme, shows that meat-heavy procurement within House of Commons’ catering produces a carbon footprint of 309 tonnes CO2 equivalent per month.

This is comparable with heating almost 2,000 homes for a year.

Of the 309 tonnes, 72%  is attributed to animal-based products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy.  

Reaching net zero

In December, the government announced new targets to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 68% by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels) in the hope of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

As the UK prepares to host the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, HSI/UK says Parliament has a ‘profound opportunity to lead by example’, and ‘reap tremendous rewards’ by making a small change.

The charity’s call is backed by MPs Kerry McCarthy, Clive Lewis, Henry Smith, Caroline Lucas and Dairy Cooper, who have written to Administration Committee chair Sir Charles Walker urging Catering Services to do more to help Parliament play its part in cutting emissions.

By cutting 50% of the meat and dairy on the menus and adding plant-based alternatives, House of Commons Catering could save 115 tonnes of CO2-e per month, reducing its overall food GHG emissions by almost a third (31%).

‘The science is clear’

The analysis, based on Commons Catering procurement data for February 2020 accessed via a Freedom of Information request, shows the disproportionate GHG contribution made by certain animal-based food groups.

For example, production of dairy, beef and pork were the top three emitters overall accounting for 53% of total GHG emissions despite making up only 25% of total procurement weight.

In contrast, fruits, vegetables, pulses and grains make up 47% of total procurement weight but account for only 14% of GHG emissions.

‘The science is clear that significantly reducing meat and dairy in our diets will be a key contributor to avoiding catastrophic climate change. Our analysis found that animal products served in canteens and restaurants in the Commons account for an astonishing 72% of the total food greenhouse gas footprint.

‘If the UK hopes to meet its net zero target by 2050, we need bold and ambitious policies and actions. These should start in the corridors of power, with politicians showing the merits of eating more planet-friendly and sustainable plant-based foods.

‘With the UK hosting COP26 in November, where global leaders will gather to agree on vital strategies to tackle the climate crisis, it is essential that we get our own house in order[…] we would like to see Parliament adopt strategies towards a 50% cut in animal product use, adopting plant-based alternatives to reduce its carbon footprint.

‘Even simple substitutions, like using oat instead of dairy milk, can have big benefits. HSI’s Forward Food vegan culinary trainers are standing by to help its kitchens and caterers ensure that the food on offer is good for the health of the planet and animals, as well as politicians.’

CLAIRE BASS
Humane Society International//UK’s executive director

Animal agriculture and GHGs

1.2 billion terrestrial farmed animals are raised for food in the UK every year, with around 3.4 million animals slaughtered every day. This equates to 143,200 per hour, 2,400 per minute and 40 every second.

Reducing meat and dairy is the single biggest action we can take to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Animal agriculture is responsible for an estimated 14.5% of GHG emissions globally – roughly equivalent to the exhaust emissions of every car, train, ship and aircraft on the planet.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s 2019 report Our Planet, Our Health highlights the importance of adopting healthy and sustainable diets.

It recommends a 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption and shifting away from intensive livestock production systems.

Similarly, the Climate Assembly UK suggested in The path to net zero report 2020 that British citizens should eat lower-carbon foods, including at least 40% less red meat and dairy.  

In the UK 20% of 16- to 24-year-olds and 12% of adults follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Nearly half (44%) of people in Britain either do not eat meat, have reduced the amount of meat they eat or are considering cutting down.

Food in the House of Commons

According to HSI/UK’s GHG assessment on HoC Catering food procurement data from February 2020, HoC Catering’s overall carbon footprint from food amounts to 376 tonnes CO2-e per month.

This equals 4513 tonnes CO2-e per year, the same as 2769 cars driven an average annual mileage in the UK, or alternatively, equivalent to heating 1929 homes in the UK for a year.

Animal-based products (meat, fish, dairy and eggs) account for 72% of the GHG emissions of food purchased by Parliament, while plant-based products (grains, pulses, fruit, vegetables and alternatives) account for just 28% of the GHG emissions.

Dairy is the food group contributing the largest proportion of the GHG emissions, at 30%. Meat and fish together contribute 39% of total emissions.

Calculations show that replacing 50% of meat, dairy and fish with plant-based alternatives would achieve a combined savings of 115 tonnes of CO2-e per month, reducing the overall food footprint by 31%.

Adopting a more seasonal menu would further assist in decreasing HoC Catering’s carbon emissions.

The report identifies 20 ‘hotspot’ products in Parliament’s food purchase contributing the highest GHG emissions.

Together, these 20 items, of which 17 are animal-based, account for 44% of the total GHG emissions of Parliament’s food.

HSI/UK contacted the director of HoC Catering to provide them with the findings of the report, and to offer plant-based culinary training to their chefs as part of HSI/UK’s Forward Food programme.

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is the largest climate conference in the world and scheduled to be held in Glasgow, United Kingdom under the presidency of the UK Government next year.

HSI/UK is also urging the UK government, as the host of COP26, to serve planet-friendly plant-centric food to delegates.

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