A local authority which has declared a climate emergency has rejected calls to limit the millions of meals it offers every year to vegan ones.
The idea was to to help cut carbon emissions and costs while improving people’s health.
North Yorkshire County Council’s deputy leader and former butcher Councillor Gareth Dadd said while the authority recognised the importance of offering plant-based foods at venues such as schools or care homes, choice remained of paramount importance.
Coun Dadd was speaking after two national organisations pressed the authority to work to increase the quality, quantity and uptake of plant-based foods on menus it had responsibility for in the wake of declaring a climate emergency in the summer.
Jimmy Pearson, of ProVeg UK, which works to increase the health and sustainability of school food, said North Yorkshire’s biggest employer needed to recognise that farming animals is responsible for 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the global transport sector.
He added: “It is also a leading cause of deforestation, water use, biodiversity loss and species extinction.
“There has long been scientific consensus that we need to eat less meat and dairy for the future of the planet. This is because plant-based food is generally far more sustainable than aninmal-based food.”
Mr Pearson urged the council to follow “the direction in which society is going in” by embracing plant-based foods and highlighted potential cost-saving benefits, saying plant-based foods are generally cheaper than their meat-based equivalents.
The calls come as the council looks to save money for essential services wherever it can as it is facing a black hole of up to £70m from April.
Pam Patterson, of the Feed Our Futures campaign, said while North Yorkshire prided itself on being one of the most forward-thinking councils in the UK by putting climate change considerations at the heart of its governance, it was trailing behind local authorities in places such as Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol in continuing to serve animal-based food at its events.
Coun Dadd said although the vegetarian and plant-based foods the council served were becoming increasingly popular, meat-based products often remained the most popular choice in the county.
He also highlighted the reliance of many North Yorkshire communities on the meat and dairy farming industry, adding the council’s core school menu offer included a meat-free day and a daily vegetarian choice and that there were plant-based menus available.
Coun Dadd said earlier this year North Yorkshire Education Services Catering had won a national accolade after chefs developed an innovative plant-based menu.
He said the council’s caterers used Red Tractor meat and sustainably-caught fish to ensure both high quality and good animal welfare standards and much of the food was sourced locally to limit carbon emissions.
Coun Dadd added: “Whilst there is some debate as to how much meat and dairy production actually contributes towards climate change… we have an overarching duty to ensure children, elderly and the wider customer base will actually eat the food offered. It is most definitely not our role to impose wholesale change without willing consent.”