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Portsmouth becomes first city to back Alliance campaign for farmers in face of vegan trend

Portsmouth City Council has become the first city and the latest local authority to vote in support of a Countryside Alliance campaign to support local farmers and recognise their contributions to sustainability, in what the organisation has dubbed a “victory for common sense”, launched to block councils from imposing all-plant-based agendas with bans on meat and dairy.


On Tuesday afternoon, the city-wide authority passed a motion ensuring that all catering at council-organised events is sourced from local producers, specifically including meat, seafood, 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 Portsmouth residents to ‘shop local’, so as to ‘take advantage of home-grown, affordable, and nutritious’ produce, including meat, dairy and vegetables. The motion will also see the local authority investigate the possibility of allowing local small businesses and producers to display and sell their products in the vicinity of Portsmouth Cruise Terminal, which sees some 250,000 visitors every year.


The motion was unanimously voted through by the city’s 42 councillors.


Portsmouth now becomes the latest council to defy campaigns successful elsewhere, which have seen several councils- including Oxfordshire and the London Borough of Enfield- banning meat and dairy products at their events, while pushing for the public to adopt plant-based diets. It also is the fourth 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.


Cllr Benedict Swann, who introduced the motion, recognised the many contributions that local farmers and growers make to the Portsmouth community and economy – despite being an urban area. He highlighted the 125 acres of remaining coastal grazing marshes, which feed livestock, as well as the top-class products and beverages made in the city, such as baked goods, vinegar, beer, and cordial.


Other councillors emphasised the importance of fishing to the region and the quality of locally sourced seafood. They said that fishmongers in the city, fish stores at the docks, and restaurants serving local seafood are all dependent upon Portsmouth’s fishers.


They also praised the many farmer's markets in the region, including the Hampshire Farmer’s Market. They spoke about the value of meeting and speaking to farmers at these events, and understanding more about where our food comes from.


Additionally, councillors recognised the value of farmers in meeting environmental targets through regenerative farming.


Liberal Democrat councillors introduced an amendment which noted that the council should not require meat and dairy products at events for certain groups who cannot eat meat or dairy.


Speaking after the vote, Cllr. Benedict Swann said:


“I’m thrilled that this motion has passed unanimously, and that Portsmouth City Council has become the first city to officially back this important Countryside Alliance campaign.


“As a city authority surrounded by beautiful countryside, it is right we play our part in championing local farmers and growers, and stand up to the nonsense we have sadly seen at mainly city councils elsewhere. As a city steeped in maritime history, it is right we also extend our support to local fishermen and women too.


“This motion not only commits us to supporting local farmers who do so much for our environment, but also ensures diet inclusivity at all our events, while keeping meat and dairy firmly on the table”.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, Director of External Affairs for the Countryside Alliance, who attended the meeting said:


“This is a fantastic result for common sense, freedom of choice and British farming. The countryside thanks Portsmouth councillors for standing by our farming community at such an important time.”


“Livestock farming in this country is among the most sustainable in the world and there can never be any justification for banning meat and dairy produce. Without our famers, the countryside we know and love will turn into a wasteland. We are going to be taking our campaign across the country, urging every council to back it”.

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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