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Cambridgeshire County Council urged by local doctor to promote healthy plant-based eating

  • On 18th July 2023 at the Full Council meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council, a local NHS doctor and campaigner with Plant-Based Councils [1] urged the council to take action on the urgent need to shift towards healthy plant-based eating.

  • Dr Sara Lightowlers asked Council what it was willing to do to encourage, support and enable residents to make healthier and more sustainable diet choices.

  • The Chair of the Adults and Health Committee, Richard Howitt, responded to the question.

  • This follows motions carried at other councils including Cambridge City Council, as well as Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council.

Cambridgeshire resident and NHS oncologist Dr Sara Lightowlers joined a full council meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council on 18th July 2023 [2], to ask Council to do more to raise awareness of the health and climate impact of food choices.

In her question to Council, Dr Lightowlers, who is a member of Cambridgeshire Mothers Climate Action Network [3], expressed her concern for the future for her children in the face of escalating climate, ecological and health crises. She said:

“Globally around 1 million cancer deaths per year are due to a poor-quality diet [4]. Cancer Research UK states that healthier diets could prevent 50 new cancer cases per day in the UK [5]. Yet the public are unaware of the extent of the impact of diet and lifestyle factors on cancer risk, with less than half knowing that processed red meat is a direct cause of cancer and that fruit and vegetables are protective. Poor diet starts from an early age - almost a third of primary school aged children eat less than one portion of vegetables per day, predisposing them to health problems in future.”

Dr Lightowlers also referred to the impact of meat and dairy on the climate and environment, and the need for public bodies to show leadership:

“The science is also clear that meat and dairy are major contributors to the climate and ecological emergencies. In the UK, the food system contributes around 19% of human made greenhouse gas emissions. The biggest part of this is due to the nitrous oxide and methane emissions from livestock. There have been substantial evidence-based recommendations calling for a move away from meat and dairy, with the National Food Strategy concluding that public organisations need to lead the way.”

A response was given by Councillor Richard Howitt, the Chair of the Adults and Health Committee, who told Dr Lightowlers that “Cambridgeshire County Council fully accepts your argument that the food system is crucial to meeting the challenges of health & of the environment.” He estimated that there are around 13 thousand people across Cambridgeshire who choose to eat a vegan diet, and he highlighted the Veg Power scheme being run in 54 schools, specifically encouraging children to eat vegetables.

However, the Plant-Based Councils campaign believes all councils can do much more to show leadership on the dietary shift that is urgent and necessary across society, and many councils are beginning to do just that.

Last year, Cambridge City Council carried a motion proposed by Green Party Councillor Dr Hannah Copley [6]. As a result of the decision, the Council agreed to offer more plant-based food at civic events, whilst reducing the amount of food options that contain meat. The City Council also agreed that 75% of the food available at the Annual Full Council Meeting in 2023 would be plant-based, rising to 100% by 2024 if it is positively received by attendees.

Dr Lightowlers’ question to Cambridgeshire County Council comes just a day after local author Linda Newbery attended the full council of Cherwell District Council in Oxfordshire [7] urging them to follow the lead of Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Councils in reducing meat and dairy consumption.

A successful motion was passed at Oxfordshire County Council in 2021 to ensure that all food provided at council meetings and events is fully plant-based [8]. This was followed in March 2023 by a similar motion, unanimously carried, at Oxford City Council. [9]

The Plant-Based Councils campaign believes that local authorities have an opportunity and a duty to lead the way in normalising plant-based eating, which is necessary if we are to tackle the climate emergency. Councils can reduce their own emissions by procuring more plant-based foods, and can address both the health and cost-of-living crises by encouraging residents to adopt healthier and cheaper ways of eating.


Dr Sara Lightowlers is available for comment or interview.

Please contact or Catherine on 07514077474


[1] The Plant-Based Councils campaign aims to address the climate emergency starting with the food on our plates. Working with councils across the UK to encourage them to lead the way in the switch from emission heavy foods to plant-based ones that are better for health, our planet and reducing the impact from the cost of living crisis.

Agenda item no 4, public question time (includes full text of Dr Sara Lightowlers’ question)

[3] Cambridgeshire Mothers Climate Action Network:

[4] Global cancer deaths due to poor-quality diet:

[5] Cancer Research UK

[8] Oxfordshire County Council votes to serve fully plant-based food at all council-catered events

[9] Motion to ensure food provided by council is plant-based unanimously passed by Oxford City Council

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