Sustain Climate Change and Nature

Why we need change now - for our farmers, our health and the climate

Please join us in calling for a new Food Bill, which would make a change in the law possible, and ensure public sector catering supports high-quality British producers.

This report by Kelly Parsons and David Barling from the University of Hertfordshire explains how public sector food has the power to transform the food system for farmers, our nutrition, and local economies.

What changes are needed? 

New buying standards should: 

  • Remove the loophole in the current standards. Currently caterers can serve sub-standard food on the grounds of ‘significant cost’. In practice this means they don’t follow them.  
  • Stipulate that all meat and dairy must meet British standards as a minimum. 
  • Require meals to reflect a healthy and sustainable diet. 
  • Require 30% of meat and dairy to be from higher-welfare and more wildlife-friendly sources like free-range, RSPCA Assured and organic, and this proportion should increase over time. 
  • Require each meal to contain at least 2 portions of vegetables and/or pulses, which should be British and seasonal where possible. 
  • Appoint an independent body such as the Food Standards Agency to check compliance with standards, and catering companies should report publicly on compliance.
  • Introduce a mandatory accreditation scheme to verify compliance, as recommended by the National Food Strategy. 
  • Ensure public sector contracts are set up in a way that makes them accessible to smaller farmers, producers and suppliers. When recently trialled in Bath and northeast Somerset it resulted in 6% cost savings. 

Sustainable fish is already stipulated in the Government Buying standards, but compliance needs to be improved to support our oceans and sustainable fishers.

If we don’t act, our farmers could be undercut by cheaper imports 

We are concerned that new trade deals will mean an influx of cheaper meat into the UK. Some supermarkets have already said they don’t want to stock this produce, raised with lower welfare standards and higher environmental footprints. Why should schoolchildren and hospital patients be a captive audience for products supermarkets reject?

Will this cost more? 

No. Thousands of schools, hospitals and other venues are already serving higher quality meals within budget, many with Food for Life Served Here certification. We know it can be done, but we need a change in the law to make this the norm for everyone. Buying more locally actually means better value for the taxpayer, because it helps keep money within our farming communities. 

School and hospital food should reflect a sustainable and healthy diet

Better public sector food standards would allow meals in schools and hospitals to reflect the kind of diets that we need to tackle diet-related ill health and the climate and nature emergency. With up to 35% of global emissions coming from the food system, public sector food is the perfect opportunity to normalise and demonstrate what a diet that is more climate-friendly and kinder to animals looks like. This includes more fruit, vegetables and pulses, small amounts of meat, dairy, eggs and fish from higher welfare, local and wildlife-friendly sources, and more seasonal and locally sourced produce. 

The public overwhelmingly supports change 

Polling commissioned by Sustainable Food Places and carried out by Savanta ComRes in September 2021 found very strong support for public sector food in addressing climate change.68% of the public either strongly or somewhat agreed that public sector food should provide a healthy and sustainable diet. The results were consistent across socio-economic groups and slightly higher in older people.   

The poll also asked about supporting British producers through the public sector, and 79% agreed that public institutions should be made to serve high quality and high animal welfare meat and dairy that meets British standards as a minimum. Positive responses were highest in the over 55s and those in the North West and South East of England.  

There was very strong support for public sector food to help address climate change specifically, with 80% agreeing that food served in the public sector should help people minimise their impact on the environment and limit climate change.

What do we mean by public institutions?

The government is responsible for millions of meals served every day in the public sector. Central government decides the standards to be followed by chefs and caterers up and down the country in schools, hospitals, care homes, prisons, the military, and government department offices. We want to see all these public institutions following clear rules to buy from high-quality, high welfare British farmers, as well as meals reflecting a healthy and sustainable diet. 


Climate Change and Nature: Sustain has taken a keen interest in the rapidly accumulating evidence about the effect of food and farming on climate change and nature, as scientific evidence emerges that our food system is a very significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.

Support our charity

Donate to enhance the health and welfare of people, animals and the planet.


The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

020 3559 6777

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

© Sustain 2024
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies