65 MPs, councillors, and other organizations signed a letter in support of PETA, addressed to Kit Malthouse. It asked for changes to the school meal requirements.
The letter asks the Department for Education not to allow meat, fish, or dairy to be served in school meals.
Current standards require that schools serve meals from the following categories every day:
- – a portion of meat or poultry on 3 or more days each week
- – oily fish once or more every 3 weeks
- – for vegetarians, a portion of non-dairy protein on 3 or more days each week
- – a meat or poultry product (manufactured or homemade, and meeting the legal requirements) no more than once each week in primary schools and twice each week in secondary schools (applies across the whole school day)
The letter was signed by Caroline Lucas from the Green Party, Henry Smith from the Conservative Party, Rachael Maskell, and Dame Diana Johnson from Labour.
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The MPs argue that children can meet all their nutritional needs by eating plant food and that the current meat requirement hinders efforts to increase vegetable and fruit consumption.
The letter claims that guidelines based on nutritional requirements, rather than the source of the nutrition, would “better reflect modern diets, which are increasingly meat-free”, and enable school caterers to offer healthier, environmentally-friendly meals.
“Reforming school meals will grant students a healthier, greener future and spare sensitive animals a terrifying death,” says PETA Corporate Projects Manager Dr Carys Bennett. “PETA is urging the Department for Education to update the archaic School Food Standards to remove obligatory servings of meat and dairy, foods that have been found to harm the environment and human health.”
PLOS Climate’s study found that global CO2 emissions would drop by 68% if animal farming was stopped.
Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley and supporter of the proposal, told us “Animal agriculture causes more carbon emissions than all transportation, eliminating or at least reducing it, would not only significantly address climate change but also end the suffering and exploitation of millions of animals.”
This latest backbench campaign doesn’t seem to have resonated immediately with the government. In response to the letter’s demands, a Department for Education spokesperson told Politics.co.uk,
“The School Food Standards have been designed to offer schools flexibility in what they offer, and we expect schools to provide choices that take account of all special dietary needs. But ultimately, it’s a matter for parents to decide whether a child eats meat, not schools.”
This campaign follows previous initiatives, with the UK’s Climate Change Committee having previously urged public sector caterers to change their approach to serving meat.
The Vegan Society started a petition to require schools to offer vegan options. It has received 26,000 of the 100,00 required to be discussed in parliament so far, but received a similar response from the government.
More than five million school meals have already gone meat-free or plant-based since the launch of ProVeg UK’s School Plates programme, a non-governmental system that helps schools implement cost effective and easy meat free alternatives to their menus. According to YouGov data, around 10% of the UK population is vegetarian. This number is expected grow over time due to climate campaigns as well as the increased availability of vegetarian alternatives on the market.