Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, have released the first U.S. examination of the impact that reduced-meat menus in hospital food service have on climate change.
The report, “Balanced Menus: A Pilot Evaluation of Implementation in Four San Francisco Bay Area Hospitals,” concludes that a pilot implementation of the Balanced Menus program across four participating hospitals yielded substantial cost savings as well as greenhouse gas emissions that exceeded the initial 20 percent reduction goal. See the report at http://www.noharm.org/lib/downloads/food/BMC_Report_Final.pdf.
“One of the most compelling aspects of this evaluation is the greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” said report co-author Roni Neff, PhD, MS, research and policy director at the Center for a Livable Future and a faculty member at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If the four included hospitals continued what they were doing for a year, they would collectively cut over 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from meat purchases. That’s like saving over 100,000 gallons of gasoline or growing over 23,000 trees for 10 years.”
Neff and doctoral student Lisa Lagasse, MHS, compared greenhouse gas emissions results using three different approaches, and all yielded similar results. They note that in this pilot study, they did not have adequate data to characterize net impacts after accounting for replacement foods.
Since implementation of Balanced Menus in January 2009, the four pilot hospitals—Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital; the San Francisco VA Medical Center; the John Muir Health Medical Center; and one anonymous facility—have reduced meat offerings in their cafeterias and, in some cases, in their patient meal programs. These four San Francisco Bay Area hospitals have collectively reduced their meat purchasing by 28 percent and reduced the steep procurement costs associated with a high meat diet.
“Balanced Menus is designed as a flexible approach that prioritizes reduced-meat menus in hospitals and encourages purchasing the healthiest, most sustainably produced meat available,” stated Lena Brook, HCWH national Balanced Menus coordinator and senior program associate, San Francisco Bay chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Nationally launched in September 2009, the Balanced Menus Challenge grew from concerns about the negative health and environmental impacts of industrialized meat production and a desire to support sustainable and grass-fed meat producers in the United States. Currently, 32 hospitals from across the country are committed to permanently reduce their meat purchasing by 20 percent in a year. Information on the Balanced Menus Program is available at www.noharm.org/us_canada/issues/food/menus.php.
In addition to reducing meat as part of the Balanced Menus approach, hospitals around the country are working with HCWH to sponsor farmers markets on hospital grounds and negotiate with suppliers for more locally produced foods and foods raised without pesticides, non-therapeutic antibiotics, growth hormones, or genetic modification.
HCWH is an international coalition of more than 430 organizations, including ANA, working to transform the health care industry worldwide so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment.
–Susan Trossman is the senior reporter for ANA