Public buyers should use 'super leverage' to promote vegan options

Using public procurement to introduce more vegan options in schools, prisons and hospitals could lower costs and drive sustainability efforts, a report has claimed.

The Breakthrough Effect report, by the University of Exeter and sustainability consultancy Systemiq, described public food as a “super leverage” with the potential to accelerate low carbon transitions and cut deforestation.

The report said: “Using public institutions to purchase alternative proteins in large quantities would rapidly increase demand and help producers to achieve economies of scale, thereby lowering costs.”

This would not require significant additional expenditure, but instead would just require a redirecting of existing budgets away from meat to vegan alternatives, it said. 

Livestock farming accounts for 8% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, while vegan alternatives emit up to 90% fewer emissions. The report said increasing vegan-based proteins could help to increase alternative proteins’ market share 10% to 20% by 2035 and significantly reduce global demand for meat. 

The report said: “Creating the enabling conditions to bring forward this tipping point, for example through public procurement and public investment in research and development, could lower the costs and enhance the effectiveness of key production technologies, such as extrusion and extrudable fat technologies.

“This could in turn bring forward the tipping points for micro-organism and animal-cell based proteins, which also use these technologies.” 

Public procurement accounts for between 5-6% of food sales in the UK and EU, with the UK government spending £2.4bn on public food alone.

Government spend is uniquely placed to help normalise vegan alternatives and enhance accessibility around meat consumption, the report said. 

Reducing meat options in public institutions could reduce deforesetation, as forests are often destoyed for livestock use.

Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, who co-authored the report, said: “You really get a disproportionate reduction in land-use demand, which is obviously a big source of emissions. Then you’re liberating land on which you could do reforestation, afforestation, rewilding.”

The Welsh government launched a guide in December to make it easier for public institutions to buy local food, while in June the UK government said it would consult on aims to ensure 50% of public sector food is produced locally.

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