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A campaign to push local councils into publicly expressing support for farmers while rejecting compulsory plant-based menus is underway. The Countryside Alliance has dubbed the initiative a “rural fightback”.
Suffolk County Council is set to vote on a motion at its Full Council meeting on 19 October, which if passed, will see the local authority ensure it “always” provides locally sourced meat and dairy options, alongside plant-based options, at its catered events.
The council is poised to become the third in a matter of months to defy the vegan trend, after Cornwall and North Northamptonshire councils voted to keep meat and dairy.
In addition, it would also commit the authority to encouraging Suffolk residents to shop locally, where possible, taking advantage of home-grown, affordable, and nutritious produce, including meat, dairy, and plant-based options. The motion aims to boost the local economy and “reduce food miles to our tables.”
The motion, which has been submitted by Councillor Richar Rout, the Conservative council’s deputy leader, also commits the council to further enhancing its partnerships with arable, livestock and dairy farmers to “enhance” Suffolk’s “magnificent countryside”.
It has been welcomed by rural campaigning group, 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.
It has urged all of Suffolk’s 75 councillors, regardless of political allegiance, to vote for the motion “for the good of Suffolk’s hardworking farming community and the wider countryside”.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher, Director of External Affairs for the organisation, said: “We have seen a number of local councils turn their backs on farmers in recent years with puerile motions that ban meat and dairy consumption and effectively warn the public off eating it. Rural communities have had enough and are fighting back. If we were to lose livestock farming - as is undoubtedly the aim of those wanting to impose plant-based eating - our countryside would turn into a barren wasteland.
“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. The countryside is watching”.
Tom Hunt, the Conservative MP for Ipswich in Suffolk, said: “Why rely on plant-based alternatives imported from across the globe, when you can eat sustainable, local produce, be it meat, dairy or vegetables?
“This is a practical way of cutting emissions, while supporting local growers and farmers. Those who would oppose this motion are very much open to the accusation of being anti- farming and freedom of choice.”
The rural fightback comes in the face of several motions passed at other councils across the country, which 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 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.
In May 2023, Cornwall Council unanimously voted for a landmark motion, backed by the Countryside Alliance, which ensures the council’s commitment to local farmers by proactively sourcing local, seasonal produce - explicitly including meat and dairy - at council events. The council also committed to encouraging residents to ‘shop locally’ and urging them to take advantage of ‘home-grown, affordable, nutritious food’, irrespective of dietary preference.
The following month, the North Northamptonshire Unitary Authority also voted to enact a similar motion, which will see it “promote local produce” - including meat and dairy - and “oppose excessive central government regulation to help farms prosper”.