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Two local doctors ask Birmingham Council to act on climate emergency by promoting plant-based food

Dr Sukhdev Singh (left) and Dr Sarah Benn (right)

  • On 12/9/23 at the Full Council of Birmingham City Council, two local doctors and supporters of the Plant-Based Councils Campaign [1] asked the council to meet with them to discuss how plant-based food should be promoted to help tackle the climate emergency.

  • Dr Sarah Benn, a retired GP, said that “Supporting a move towards a healthy plant-based diet for Birmingham citizens is a logical next step in the Route to Zero journey.”

  • Dr Sukhdev Singh, a gastroenterologist, said that “The 2022 Birmingham Food System Strategy contains many references to individual and environmental health, but virtually no mention of the type of foods best placed to advance these goals.”

  • Other similar questions were also asked the same day at council meetings at Bristol Council [2] and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council [3].

  • These questions follow councils elsewhere passing motions committing to plant-based catering, such as Oxfordshire, Cambridge and Exeter City.

Birmingham residents, Dr Sarah Benn and Dr Sukhdev Singh, attended a full council meeting for Birmingham City Council on Tuesday 12/9/23 [4], to ask the council to lead by example and ensure any catering provided at internal council events is plant-based.

The two doctors asked questions at the Council House, requesting that Birmingham City follows the lead of other councils around the country by promoting healthy plant-based eating as the logical and necessary next step after having declared a climate emergency.

Dr Sarah Benn submitted a written question in advance of the meeting, it said:

“I’m Dr Sarah Benn, a retired Birmingham GP. I have huge concern over the climate emergency, implications for health, and how food systems contribute.
Since my related question in December, we’ve seen devastating wildfires, extreme heat and mass migrations across the world driven by global heating. Per calorie and gram of protein produced, meat and dairy produce many times more emissions than plant foods. In July Oxford University published their findings on environmental impact of different diets. The least sustainable plant-based diet was more environmentally friendly than the most sustainable meat- eaters diet in terms of emissions, water and land us
In the midst of a climate emergency, supporting a move towards healthy plant-based diet for Birmingham citizens is a logical next step in the Route to Zero journey.
Will councillors meet with me to address their previously stated concerns over cost, inclusivity, choice, and local impacts of such a direction, and hear how it could be an enormous win for health, sustainability and budget?”

Dr Sukhdev Singh also submitted a question at the same meeting, he said:

“I’m Dr Sukhdev Singh, consultant gastroenterologist at University Hospital Birmingham. I am active there on matters of sustainability, and have a keen interest in optimal diet for health.
The independent Climate Change Committee has urged reduction in meat and dairy consumption to meet net zero targets, and called for public sector leadership in this sphere. The Court of Appeal this Autumn will determine if the government’s National Food Strategy Review is unlawful through failure to include low Carbon diet targets in line with net zero strategy.
The 2022 Birmingham Food System Strategy contains many references to individual and environmental health, but virtually no mention of the type of foods best placed to advance these goals.
Will councillors meet with me to discuss how council policy could be developed to help citizens in accessing high quality, palatable and affordable plant based foods as the mainstay of a diet that is healthy for them, and for our planet?”

A response was read out on behalf of Mariam Khan, Health & Wellbeing Board Chair, who could not be present on the day. Mariam agreed to a meeting and for both doctors to be involved in discussions involving the Food Systems Strategy Team.

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Benn said:

“I am really pleased that the council has agreed to meet with us and discuss this topic of utmost importance.”

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.

Similar questions have been asked of other councils across the UK and motions have been carried by progressive councils such as Exeter City Council [5] which, in December last year, voted to serve only plant-based foods at council meetings and events. Exeter City Council also plans to introduce more plant-based options onto menus at council-run external sites such as leisure centres, and to showcase plant-based foods at external events.

Last week, 650 academics [6] called on British universities to adopt 100% plant-based catering to fight the climate emergency. Twelve academics from the University of Birmingham are amongst the signatories of the Open Letter to university Vice Chancellors.


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[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.

[2] Bristol Full Council Meeting 12th September 2023

[3] BCP Full Council meeting 12th September 2023

[4] Birmingham Full Council meeting 12th September 2023

[5] Exeter City Council votes to serve 100% plant-based food at catered meetings

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