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Fenland Council votes to oppose compulsory veganism in swipe at neighbouring Cambridge

A battle is raging in Cambridgeshire after one its major local authorities, Fenland District Council, became the first in the county to vote in support of a Countryside Alliance campaign to support local farmers and block councils from banning meat and dairy.

The move comes after Cambridge City Council pledged to move towards "fully plant-based catering for future council meetings where food is served” in May 2022.

On Monday evening, councillors passed a motion introduced by Tim Taylor 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’, so as to ‘take advantage of home-grown, affordable, and nutritious’ produce, including meat, dairy and vegetables.

The motion was unanimously voted through by the district’s 43 councillors.

Fenland 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 fifth council in a matter of weeks to defy calls for it to “go vegan”, after Suffolk, Cornwall, and North Northamptonshire councils voted to keep meat and dairy on their menus.

The vote in Fenland will be seen as a swipe at neighbouring Cambridge City Council, which in May 2022, agreed to begin a move towards banning meat and using plant-based catering at its meetings, while asking suppliers of council-run cafes to list plant-based options above meat on their menus. They also pledged to ensure there is at least one plant-based food option at city council-run events where food is served. The decisions followed a motion put forward by the Green Party.

The move proved unpopular with the public, however, who at a Remembrance Sunday event left almost all the vegan options untouched, according to a council report. About 80 people of all ages - mainly residents - attended the civic event on 13 November 2022 in Cambridge. Cambridge City Council said it was "committed to sustainable food" but conceded that most of its vegan food at the event ended up in the bin.

In supporting the motion, debated in the council chamber in the market town of March, several councillors warned against local authorities taking away freedom of choice.

Cllr Steve Tierney argued: “It is not the job of councils or governments to instruct people on how they should feed themselves” while Cllr Elisabeth Sennitt Clough said: “The minute we start taking away people’s choices, it’s a slippery slope.”

Cllr James Carney said: “It is important that a local authority should be seen to support its local food and drink producers. We do have a good number of them in this district alone. It is important to remember that there is a choice out there.”

The motion received cross-party support, with Liberal Democrat Cllr Gavin Booth saying: “I am a liberal and I believe in free choice. The benefits of supporting our local economy is great. We did a few years back look at our procurement policy, and the whole aim of that was to try and buy locally produced goods. It appears that we have not achieved what we set out to do when we reviewed that policy, but if this motion backs that up, then let’s get on and do it.”

Cllr Tim Taylor who introduced the motion said: “I am working very closely with the Countryside Alliance on this – this is a nationwide problem. Fenland is now in charge of the whole of Cambridge within this motion. There is nobody else in Cambridge running this.”

Speaking after the vote, Cllr. Taylor said: “I’m thrilled that this motion has passed unanimously, and that Fenland Council has become the first authority in Cambridgeshire to officially back this important Countryside Alliance campaign.

“I am proud that unlike councillors in neighbouring Cambridge, this council is committed to backing all our hard-working farmers and freedom of choice”.

He added: “I am delighted that my motion received cross-party support and I hope that councillors elsewhere in the county, irrespective of political party, recognise why they need to join Fenland in getting behind this common-sense motion and oppose draconian bans on meat and dairy”.

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 Eastern Region. Fenland has a proud farming heritage and that has now been officially recognised. I sincerely hope the action taken in Fenland sends Cambridge a message and that the governing Labour authority there swiftly rejects and reverses any move to ban meat and dairy from their menus”. 

On Thursday 14th December 2023, Dorset Council will vote on a virtually identical motion which if passed successfully, will also instruct the authority to oppose “excessive regulation by central government” to support Dorset’s poultry, arable and livestock farmers.

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.

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