April 20, 2010

Hospitals Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Taking a “Less Meat, Better Meat” Approach to Foodservice:  First-ever Evaluation Finds Reduced-meat Menus in US Hospitals Exceeds Expectations


Contact: Lena Brook, MES, 415.601.0504, lena@sfbaypsr.org

(San Francisco, CA) San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, have released “Balanced Menus: A Pilot Evaluation of Implementation in Four San Francisco Bay Area Hospitals,” the first US examination of the impact that reduced-meat menus in hospital food service have on climate change. The report concludes that a pilot implementation of the Balanced Menus program across four participating hospitals yielded greenhouse gas emissions that exceeded the initial 20 percent reduction goal and substantial cost savings.

“One of the most compelling aspects of this evaluation is the greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” says co-author of the report, 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/or 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, coordinator of the national Balanced Menus project, 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 California and throughout 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 http://www.noharm.org/us_canada/issues/food/menus.php.

Encouraging a reduced and sustainable meat diet is part of a primary prevention agenda to reduce the nation’s skyrocketing rates of diet-related disease, including diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. Shifting meat consumption patterns would also contribute to larger climate mitigation efforts; promote cleaner air and water; and help protect the effectiveness of antibiotics. According to USDA statistics, there is about 50 percent more meat in the US food supply than would be appropriate to consume based on dietary guidelines. The vast majority of meat in the US is produced in industrialized settings, which contributes to a variety of environmental and public health problems. The American Dietetic Association’s Hunger and Environment Practice Group actively supports the Balanced Menus project and has created several resources to help dietetic professionals advocate for nutritious, sustainable health care food. This joint effort is an example of a larger movement within the health care sector to redefine food service operations through an ecological framework.

“The Balanced Menus Challenge was a natural next step to take after our initial year of setting up local vendors for produce, meats and poultry,” said Linda Hansen, Director of Nutrition Services for Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Sonoma County, CA and an early adopter of the Balanced Menus campaign. “We need to continue to find ways to reduce our carbon footprint as a healthcare organization, to continue to support our local economies, and provide the healthiest food possible for our staff, patients, and visitors.”

In addition to reducing meat as part of the Balanced Menus approach, hospitals throughout the Bay Area are working with Physicians for Social Responsibility to bring healthier, fresher food to hospitals. They negotiate with suppliers for more locally produced foods and foods raised without pesticides, non-therapeutic antibiotics, growth hormones or genetic modification as part of their commitment to a broad range of food-related sustainability practices, and demonstrate their leadership in the larger marketplace to shift demand toward sustainable food procurement.

Download the Johns Hopkins Balanced Menus Report.

Download the Executive Summary.

Physicians for Social Responsibility is a non-profit advocacy organization that combines the power of community activism with the knowledge and credibility of physicians and other health professionals to promote public policies that support human health.  The San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of PSR (SF PSR), founded in 1979, was the first to be organized in the country and remains one of the largest of the 31 US chapters, with over 2000 members. SF PSR is the preeminent medical and public health voice in our region on a broad range of critical social and environmental health issues. To learn more about SFPSR, visit www.sfbaypsr.org.