Organic livestock farmers have criticised the Soil Association for its political lobbying to introduce a mandatory, meat-free ‘plant-based protein day’ in schools across the UK.
The announcement this morning (May 17) followed in the footsteps of what the Soil Association called ‘overwhelming agreement’ that consumers needed to reduce meat consumption to halt climate change, instead calling for weekly school menus to dish up more beans and pulses.
Rob Percival, head of policy for food and health at the Soil Association, said a mandatory plant-based protein day each week would make menus more climate-friendly while also tackling poor diets and obesity by increasing fibre intake.
“We should all be eating less and better meat,” he said. “Leading Food for Life schools are already showing that it is possible to serve children healthy plant-based meals, with the cost saving used to ‘trade-up’ to higher-welfare and more sustainable meat for the rest of the week.
“It is time the government caught up.”
Cumbria dairy farmer James Robinson, whose farm has been organic for 12 years, said while he had never had a problem with Soil Association in the past, the organisation should be supportive of all organic farming and ‘cannot alienate farming as a whole’.
He said: “It was not just a comment, it is the lobbying of the government which is very disappointing as we are a licence holder with them and we spend hundreds of pounds each year to be certified.
“It is this whole meat-free Monday thing which is trying to go down. It has nothing to do with saving the planet but this constant knocking of livestock farmers.”
Mr Robinson said the comments did ‘absolutely nothing to improve relations with paying Soil Association members’.
In response to the backlash, the Soil Association said that by introducing meat-free days, school caterers could spend the savings on unprocessed, organic, free-range, fresh and seasonal ingredients.
It also said it fully understood ‘the importance of ruminants in agriculture’.