Vegan burgers should be served in schools and PRISONS to trigger a shift away from meat, scientists claim

  • New report suggests bringing plant-based meat options to public institutions
  • Authors say alternative proteins can cut demand for red meat and help the Earth
  • It argues there are ‘social norms’ around meat consumption that need changing 

Vegan food should be served in schools, prisons and hospitals to promote its popularity with the general public, a new report argues. 

Bringing plant-based burgers, sausages and fillets to the kitchens of such public institutions could trigger a shift away from animal meat, it says. 

Cutting red meat intake can improve our health but also that of the planet, as livestock farming at scale destroys habitats and pumps out CO2 and methane. 

The new report say there are ‘social norms’ around meat consumption that need changing, although taste, texture and nutrition of ‘fake meat’ still needs improving. 

Plant-based food should be served in schools and prisons to trigger a shift away from meat and help the climate crisis, a new report argues. Pictured, plant burgers (file photo)

The report suggests serving plant based options in the following public institutions:

– Schools

– Hospitals

– Prisons

– Government offices

The new report has been authored by experts at sustainability consultancy Systemiq in partnership with the University of Exeter, who make a series of recommendations for accelerating net zero. 

‘Shifting to alternative proteins, thereby cutting demand for meat production, could reduce both pressure for land use change and emissions from livestock farming,’ they say in the report. 

‘Favouring alternative proteins in public procurement policies globally could help to bring forward tipping points in their adoption. 

‘Using public institutions (e.g., government offices, hospitals, prisons, schools) to purchase alternative proteins in large quantities would rapidly increase demand and help producers to achieve economies of scale, thereby lowering costs. 

‘By introducing large numbers of consumers to these products, public procurement can also enhance accessibility and help to shift social norms around meat consumption.’ 

Already, alternative proteins are projected to reach around 10 per cent of the market share by 2035, but this could be pushed to 20 per cent with such a policy change. 

The report suggests bringing plant-based ‘meat’ to public institutions such as schools, although there’s been fears it’s not as nutritious as real meat (file photo)

How does meat and dairy hurt the planet? 

Eating meat, eggs and dairy products hurts the environment in a number of different ways.

Cows, pigs and other farm animals release huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere. While there is less methane in the atmosphere than other greenhouse gases, it is around 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.

Raising livestock also means converting forests into agricultural land, meaning CO2-absorbing trees are being cut down, further adding to climate change. More trees are cut down to convert land for crop growing, as around a third of all grain produced in the world is used to feed animals raised for human consumption. 

Factory farms and crop growing also requires massive amounts of water, with 542 litres of water being used to produce just a single chicken breast.

As well as this, the nitrogen-based fertiliser used on crops adds to nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide is around 300 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere. These fertilisers can also end up in rivers, further adding to pollution. 

The authors note, however, that plant-based meat still has to change to appeal to more customers – namely, achieve taste and texture that more closely resemble animal protein, which will require significant ‘technological innovation’.

Plant-based meat will also have to overcome health and dietary concerns, as some fear that it’s not as nutritious as real meat.

Previous research has shown that some alternative meat products contain excessive amounts of salt. 

Once these issues are overcome, plant-based protein must also be easy to purchase in shops, online and in restaurants, they say.

Apart from plant-based, there are several other alternative forms of protein such as algae, insects and even cultured (lab-grown) meat. 

But plant-based proteins are the closest to reaching parity with animal meats in terms of cost, taste and texture, the experts point out. 

The authors acknowledge progress that has been already made, as plant proteins are now present in most prominent fast food chains.

Burger King sells plant-based burgers over the world, including its Whopper made from soy protein, while McDonald’s McPlant is sold across Europe, including the UK.

Plant products have also become much more prominent in supermarkets, many of which have set up dedicated vegan sections in the past few years. 

However, more research is required to see what role supermarkets have in helping the shift to these alternatives, the report says. 

Overall, cutting demand for meat production could reduce both pressure for land use change and emissions from livestock farming. 

Apart from plant-based, there are other alternative forms of protein such as algae, insects and even cultured (lab-grown) meat. But plant-based proteins are the closest to reaching parity with animal meats in terms of cost, taste and texture, the experts point out

Burger King sells plant-based burgers over the world, including its Whopper made from soy protein, while McDonald’s McPlant (pictured) is sold across Europe, including the UK

A reduction in livestock farming could free up somewhere between 400 and 800 million hectares of land, the report says, citing previous research. 

This is equivalent to seven to 15 per cent of agricultural land today, which could help grow a greater volume of food to feed the world’s growing population. 

Bringing plant products to public institutions is identified as one of three ‘super leverage points’ – where a small intervention can cause a large beneficial effect on the climate. 

The others are mandating vehicles with zero emissions and ‘green’ ammonia (ammonia made with renewable energy) for fertilizers. 

Overall, significantly more action across all sectors is needed this decade to keep the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2.7°F (1.5°C) within reach, the report says.

Never mind plant burgers! Could lab-grown red meat save the environment?  

Lab-grown meat is set to become more ubiquitous this decade, transforming from a niche concept to a common fridge staple. 

Professor Mark Post at Maastricht University in the Netherlands unveiled the world’s first lab-grown burger from cow muscle cells, in 2013.

He’s now pioneering a ‘kinder and cleaner’ way of making beef with his firm, Mosa Meat, which created the world’s first hamburger without slaughtering an animal. 

The company extracts cells from the muscle of an animal, such as a cow for beef, when the animal is under anaesthesia.   

The cooked Mosa Meat patty looks similar to conventionally-made beef burgers. The company says it tastes ‘like meat’

The cells then are placed in a dish containing nutrients and naturally-occurring growth factors, and allowed to proliferate just as they would inside an animal, until there are trillions of cells from a small sample. 

These cells later form muscle cells, which naturally merge to form primitive muscle fibres and edible tissue.  

From one sample from a cow, the firm can produce 800 million strands of muscle tissue, which is enough to make 80,000 quarter pounders. 

Mosa Meat has also created cultured fat that it adds to its tissue to form the finished product, which simply tastes ‘like meat’, the company says. 

Professor Post think this product will be so popular with animal welfare activists and burger fans alike it will eventually displace plant-based substitutes, like soy burgers, that are increasingly common in UK supermarkets. 

‘Novel technologies such as the ones developed in cellular agriculture are part of the solution, next to reducing food waste and changing consumer behaviour,’ Professor Post told MailOnline. 

‘A good example of strong trend in consumer behaviour is increased vegetarianism among young generations to unprecedented numbers. 

‘Most likely, this trend will continue and spread towards other age groups and eventually will lead to disappearance of plant-based meat substitutes.’

Mosa Meat received $55 million in 2021 to scale up production of cultured meat. 

The funding will help extend the firm’s current pilot production facility in the Dutch city of Maastricht and develop an industrial-sized production line.    

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