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The City Council of Helsinki, the capital of Finland, has decided to take off the menu meat from terrestrial animals at all of its official events. From January 2022, any food given at city-held workshops, seminars, public events and invite-only events, will consist only of seasonal vegetarian food and flesh from fish. Also, oat milk will replace cow’s milk, and single-use cutlery will no longer be given. Additionally, coffee, tea, bananas and other overseas items will have to be Fair Trade certified (the City of Helsinki became a Fair Trade city in 2013). 

Johanna af Hällström, the head of the climate team at the City of Helsinki, clarified that the decision is not a comment on the food service provided in schools or elderly care. She stated to YLE: “This is one way among many to reduce the climate impact of food and reduce the amount of natural resources used by the city.”

In February 2019, the Helsinki City Council decided that to support the city’s emissions reduction targets, the use of dairy and meat products in the food services provided by the city will have to be halved by 2025. The Greens proposed this deal (passed by 42 votes to 39) with support from other left-leaning parties.

Atte Harjanne, a spokesperson from the Green party, said at the time: “In the face of climate change and biodiversity loss, it’s clear that we need a major reduction in meat use globally.”

Since 2007, Helsinki’s schoolchildren have had vegetarian options in their canteens, which have been serving a meat-free day every week since 2010.

However, it seems that the recent Council’s decision allows for deviations from the new policy for “justified reasons” (at high-level visits events organized by senior management of the mayoral, or another city). Let’s hope that such exemptions do not become the norm, and not only this measure does not end up being a meaningless greenwashing symbolic gesture — as its detractors claim it is — but in the future, the city bans all animal products in its catering.