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Dorset set to become fifth council to defy plant-based movement in show of support for farmers

A campaign backed by the Countryside Alliance to push local councils into publicly expressing support for farmers while rejecting compulsory plant-based-only menus is set to be debated by councillors in Dorset.

The unitary authority will vote on a motion at its full council meeting on Thursday 14 December 2023, which if passed, will see food provided at its catered events sourced from ‘local suppliers’, specifically including meat and dairy. The move comes after a string of other councils voted banned meat and dairy items on council catered menus. 

The council is poised to become the fifth in a matter of weeks to defy the vegan trend, after Portsmouth City Council voted to keep meat and dairy following a vote last month. Suffolk, Cornwall and North Northamptonshire have also passed the motion. 

In addition, the motion would also commit the authority to encouraging local residents to shop locally, where possible, taking advantage of home-grown, affordable, and nutritious produce, including meat, dairy and plant-based options with an aim of reducing the food miles on “our plates”.

Submitted by Conservative Councillor Byron Quayle, 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”.

The Countryside Alliance, which has spearheaded a national campaign to get councils to adopt ‘farming friendly’ policies while pushing back against attempts to introduce bans on meat and dairy, has welcomed the motion. 

It has urged all of Dorset’s 82 councillors, regardless of political allegiance, to vote for the motion “for the good of the county’s hardworking farming community and the wider countryside”.
Several motions passed at other councils across the country encourage residents to buy ‘plant-based’ produce in a move away from meat and dairy, while also committing to only source vegan options for councillors at events.

In 2021, Oxfordshire County Council sparked outrage among farmers, including Jeremy Clarkson, when it passed a motion 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 farms 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.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, Director of External Affairs for the organisation, said:

“We thank Cllr Quayle for submitting this motion and hope to see every councillor supporting him. Dorset has a significant farming community and this motion will go a long way in reassuring them that the council has their back. In recent months we have seen several councils back our campaign to support local farmers and growers, while pre-emptively rejecting bans on meat and dairy and so-called plant-based treaties that seek to eradicate livestock farming.

“Red meat produced in the UK is among the most sustainable in the world, and it makes every bit of sense for local authorities to encourage the public to play their part in fighting climate change by sourcing seasonal and sustainable produce from local farmers and growers - irrespective of whether its meat or vegetables. We hope all political parties support this motion”.

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