NHS to cut meat from hospital menus

A row has erupted over NHS plans to cut the amount of meat served in British hospitals.

The plans are part of a wide-ranging strategy launched by the NHS Sustainable Development Unit yesterday, which aims to slash the health service's carbon footprint and achieve government targets of an 80% reduction in NHS emissions by 2050.

The NHS currently accounts for more than 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions in England and has a carbon footprint of 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. It is one of the largest purchasers of food in the UK and spends around 500 million on food to serve 300 million meals in 1,200 hospitals every year.

Reporting on the sustainability of NHS food procurement, the Sustainable Development Unit found that much of the food purchased by hospitals in the UK is imported and advised that more local food should be sourced.

Controversially, it also recommeneded that hospitals slash their carbon emissions by serving a meat-free menu for at least one day out of each week, replacing meat with seasonal vegetables and sustainably sourced fish.

Dr David Pencheon, the head of the unit, told press that a reduction in meat consumption would benefit both the environment and the long-term health of patients. "The NHS has a duty to set an example: that it's perfectly possible to eat healthily without as much meat," he said.

Industry leaders have disagreed, warning that the proposals are "simplistic" and could have an adverse impact on patient's health.

"For many years EBLEX has worked successfully alongside health professionals to highlight the valuable role of red meat in a balanced diet," said Richard Lowe, chief executive of AHDB Meat Services.

"It is generally acknowledged that red meat is a rich source of micro nutrients, protein and iron, all of which are vital to patients in hospital recovering from surgery or illness.

"EBLEX will be writing as a matter of urgency to the NHS Sustainable Development Unit to highlight its concerns and explore a more constructive way forward on this very complex issue."

Welsh MP and Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesperson Roger Williams also condemned the meat-free proposal, warning that it would deal a "significant blow" to the livestock industry and have limited environmental benefits.

"While I support attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all the evidence shows that a healthy diet is a mixed diet and the NHS should consider this before removing perfectly healthy items from the menu for minimal carbon savings," he said.

Williams added that the government should encourage public sector bodies to procure more British meat, which would reduce carbon emissions and provide a boost to the economy.

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