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Government called on to do more to promote plant-based diets

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A new report has urged the Government to do more to encourage a shift towards a plant-based diet to help fight climate change.

The report, from Imperial College’s Committee on Climate Change, was written by London academic, Dr Richard Carmichael, who recommends policy actions the Government can take to encourage people to make low-carbon choices across surface transport and aviation, domestic heating and diet. Among these, lowering barriers to more plant-based diets is a theme, including broadening choice by making sure at least one plant-based (vegan) option is available to anyone every day on all public-sector menus and training catering staff in plant-based cooking skills.

This comes as the Government is legally committed to reaching a ‘net zero’ UK economy by 2050. Net zero is when a region (such as a city or country) balances the carbon they emit with the carbon they remove.

Dr Carmichael, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, commented: “The science and the targets for net zero are clear and many people are willing to do their bit but the challenge ahead is huge and time is limited. Policies are needed now to make low-carbon choices more accessible, affordable, attractive and fair for households.

“Consumers need support to take actions that will deliver large emissions reductions, but these need not be costly or require big lifestyle changes, and many come with co-benefits – such as air quality improvements in towns and cities from switching to electric vehicles, less diet-related disease and preserving biodiversity. These changes are unlikely to happen quickly enough if the Government does not remove obstacles currently frustrating the behavioural and societal shifts needed.”

Welcoming the report, Mark Banahan, Campaigns Manager at The Vegan Society, added: “Dr Carmichael’s detailed report makes a crucial recommendation to include vegan meal options as standard on public sector menus. Provision for vegans in this sector is currently lacking, with hospital patients and school children often going hungry, and our proposed legislation would assist in solving this problem.

“We hope that vegans and non-vegans alike will join us in urging institutions to provide healthy and sustainable vegan food for everyone.”

Dr Carmichael said in the report that the dietary aspect “has been neglected by climate policy” and called for “government support for farmers to shift from livestock to horticulture”.

Among the recommendations, the report explained that funding is suggested for research and development in food technology for meat-replacement products, which present an opportunity for UK industry with global markets, while standardised environmental impact and nutritional labels would allow each household to get personalised feedback on their overall shopping habits, potentially causing greater shifts in consumption than individual food labels alone.

The report found that a shift to plant-based diets would deliver up to around a 73 per cent reduction in diet-related emissions compared to current levels and would require 70-80 per cent less farmland. It said halving the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs in the EU would achieve a 25-40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

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