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The Countryside Alliance defended British livestock farming as Bishop Burton College in East Yorkshire announced it would remove meat two days a week from one of its restaurants.
In addition to taking meat off the menu, the agricultural college shared a 'Happy Veganuary' post on Facebook and unveiled the idea of 'meat-free Mondays' and 'wellbeing Wednesdays', which, according to the college, would have promoted healthy diets and sustainability.
It is understood that the request for meat-free options came from the student council. It follows recent campaigns at the University of Warwick and Cambridge which are pushing their catering outlets to adopt plant-based menus.
The Countryside Alliance said promoting veganism was a 'well-intentioned gimmick for social media', with many objectors pointing to some meat-alternative products being 'ultra-processed'. A recent study showed that plant-based alternatives that have appeared on fast-food menus in recent years were no healthier than the meat versions.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher, Director of External Affairs for the Countryside Alliance, said:
"In many cases, the promotion of veganuary and plant-based diets are meant as a well-intentioned gimmick, but in reality, it sends an utterly false message that livestock farming and the consumption of meat and dairy are incompatible with wanting to address climate change."
"British farmers are part of the solution to climate change, not the problem. The UK agricultural sector is pioneering regenerative farming techniques that reduce emissions and increase biodiversity. It is disappointing to see these efforts ignored. Colleges and universities should be using their platform to promote the excellent meat, dairy, and vegetable produce across the UK, rather than spreading tenuous claims about the benefits of plant-based diets or encouraging any one diet for its students."
Principal Bill Meredith has since issued a statement:
"We fully recognise and apologise for the impression this gave to our wider farming community, stakeholders, students past, present and future."
"We have always made sure we offer meat and plant-based options, something we have been doing as a college for many years – offering choice to all. As a specialist land-based college, our core business is agriculture and we recognise the importance of livestock production to sustainable farming systems and to a healthy balanced diet."
Furious students and farmers said the college - which offers apprenticeships at an abattoir and butcher and allows students to raise pigs, cattle and sheep - should be 'banging the drum for the sector' and not be promoting veganism or insinuating a vegan diet was healthier or more sustainable than one containing meat.
Anna Longthorp, 41, a former student at Bishop Burton and now a free-range pig farmer, told the Times:
"The post insinuated that veganism is healthier and promotes good mental health and sustainability. I find it outrageous that an agricultural college is not just implying but promoting this message. Farmers are also getting a fair old bashing regarding the environment and a multitude of other things. I'm not sure where people think their food is going to come from when farmers decide to call it a day ― as many are doing."
Max Robinson, 16, is studying at the college and told the BBC:
"It's a slap in the face to British farming and livestock farmers across the country. The college should be supporting sustainable, locally sourced British meat, particularly when a large proportion of students come from farming families."
The Countryside Alliance has called on students around the country to reject compulsory veganism motions as they arise in Student Unions around the country.