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Tim Bonner: Eat deer, not tofu

A trial by an NHS Trust in Lancashire offering locally-sourced wild venison to its patients ticks so many boxes it is difficult to count them. Patients benefit from lean, healthy meat high in protein, zinc and iron, the climate is better off as venison has a tiny carbon footprint - especially as the deer were culled within 20 miles of the hospital - and nature gains as managing the deer population is vital to protect habitats.

Despite all of this, extremists in the animal rights movement still attacked the NHS Trust for serving this most sustainable of foods. In fact, the vegan campaign group PETA said that "dumping animal flesh in favour of healthy, hearty, and humane vegetables, pulses, and tofu would be great news for NHS patients and staff". This is a particularly interesting statement as PETA is making a direct comparison between venison and tofu. Tofu is an ancient food product created by coagulating soy milk which can certainly be considered healthy and environmentally beneficial if you live somewhere where soya beans are grown sustainably.

Unfortunately for PETA, however, demand for soya protein means that soybean production is one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world. Eighty per cent of soybean production occurs in Argentina, Brazil and the US and the massive expansion of soybean production has caused widespread deforestation and displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples in North and South America and around the globe. Soya production has been the principle driver of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and in many other parts of the world as farmers seek to cash in on global demand for soya.

The suggestion that serving soya-based food in preference to locally-sourced venison "would be great news for NHS patients and staff" is therefore utter nonsense and, whilst everyone has the right to free speech, PETA is (extraordinarily) a charity and as such has a duty to ensure that its campaigns "must be factually accurate and have a well-founded evidence base".

Unfortunately, the Charity Commission, which sets these rules for charities, is both underfunded and inept. Extreme animal rights groups and many other organisations at the fringes of political debates have realised that becoming a charity and getting the financial benefits that come with that status does not actually require them to play by the rules. This has created a free-for-all amongst campaigning charities and a significant imbalance between non-charitable organisations which do not get the financial benefits of charitable status and supposedly charitable campaigning organisations which do.

The Alliance always strives to be factually accurate and bases all its campaigns on well-founded evidence because our reputation relies on the quality of our arguments. It remains a matter of huge frustration that others are able to advance illogical, emotional and inaccurate material whilst accessing the advantages of charitable status. If, and when, politics returns to something like normality, this is an issue that urgently needs to be addressed.

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