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Dorset becomes latest council to defy plant-based movement

In a “victory for common sense”, Dorset Council has become the latest local authority to vote in support of a Countryside Alliance campaign to support local farmers and block councils from banning meat and dairy.

On Thursday evening, councillors passed a motion introduced by Conservative Byron Quayle, ensuring that all catering at council-organised events is sourced from local producers, specifically including meat and dairy options, alongside plant-based produce.

In a bid to ‘reduce food miles to our tables’, councillors also committed to exploring ways of encouraging residents to ‘shop local’, to ‘take advantage of home-grown, affordable, and nutritious’ produce, including meat, dairy and vegetables.

Additionally, it will also instruct the authority to oppose “excessive regulation by central government” and support Dorset’s poultry, arable and livestock farmers to ensure their ability to “enhance our countryside”, alongside its fishing industry to “protect the oceans”.  Shockingly, an attempt to remove the commitment to opposing excessive regulation was proposed in an amendment submitted by the Green Party.

In proposing the amendment, Green Party councillor Kelvin Clayton argued: “There is a lot that is really commendable in this motion – not least of which its support for local food and local food producers. I think it could be improved by at least accepting that we need to move away from meat and dairy, but the stumbling block for me is just one sentence: “We will be vocal in opposing excessive regulation by central government.” We will require government leadership and regulation to counter the effects of industrial farming methods – and that’s what is really going to hold back local food production”.

The amendment was supported by Labour’s Cllr Paul Kimber, who added: “I’m happy to support the amendment and I’m glad it’s been highlighted because I had this sudden vision of the conservative group jumping on the bus to go up to Parliament to protest about some sort of changes in farming practices – it’s right that we remove that part”.

The amendment was however successfully defeated in a vote and the motion went on to pass in full, with 48 councillors voting for and 3 voting against. There were 4 abstentions.

Dorset now becomes the latest council to defy campaigns successful elsewhere, which have seen several councils- including Oxfordshire and the London Borough of Enfield- ban meat and dairy products at their events, while pushing for the public to adopt plant-based diets. It is now the sixth council in a matter of weeks to defy calls for it to “go vegan”, after Fenland District Council in Cambridgeshire voted for a similar motion on Monday evening.

Both now join Suffolk, Cornwall, and North Northamptonshire councils who have all voted to keep meat and dairy on their menus.

In supporting his motion, Cllr Byron Quayle said: “Food security is one of the most important issues facing Dorset and the nation as a whole. Simply, our farmers and food producers are facing breaking-point pressures. Our farmers deliver quality, fresh, seasonal, and affordable food to world-leading environmental and welfare standards. However, agriculture has become less profitable and the industry is in decline. We live in an ever-expanding country that needs feeding. With risks to global supply chains, it is our farmers and food producers that will be required to provide for this demand. If this industry is not supported now, we simply won’t have the capacity to meet this need in the future”.

Another, Cllr Sherry Jespersen, said: “Sustainable food production and environmental protection go hand in hand. Farmers face challenges from energy costs, to heat waves, droughts and floods as our climate changes – and they need our support.”

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, Director of External Affairs for the Countryside Alliance said: “This is a fantastic result for common sense, freedom of choice, and farmers across the Dorset. Dorset has a proud farming heritage and that has now been officially recognised. With Dorset joining Cornwall in supporting this important motion, the South West is truly leading the way and sending a strong message to councils across the country”.

He added: “ It is disappointing, however, that some councillors felt unable to support this perfectly sensible motion and puzzling that some local Green and Labour councillors essentially support farmers having to face ‘excessive regulation’. Clearly that sends a very bad message to those custodians of Dorset’s amazing countryside, who work tirelessly to produce sustainable food while protecting and enhancing the environment”.

In 2021, Oxfordshire County Council sparked outrage among farmers, including Jeremy Clarkson, when it passed a motion submitted by a Green party councillor, to ban meat and dairy at its events. At the time, the council justified the policy by saying it was ‘in the interest of the health of our planet and the health of our people’. The controversial policy was backed by Animal Rebellion - now Rising - an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion. The council also sponsored a taxpayer-funded website, urging people to adopt a plant-based diet to help “slow climate change, rein in habitat loss, and regenerate the health of our planet”.

Three councils, Edinburgh City Council, Norwich City Council, and Haywards Heath Town Council in Sussex have also signed up to the ‘Plant-Based Treaty’, which calls for an end to the construction of any future livestock farm and pushes plant-based food in schools and hospitals. It also includes a pledge to promote vegan food over animal products.

Enfield Borough Council also removed meat from the menu of its catering service in 2020, while Cambridge City Council will transition to fully plant-based catering for council meetings by 2026.

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