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Why we must combat veganism by stealth

This week we learnt that pork sausages served at NHS hospitals will be blended with fake meat by the end of the year, in a bid to tackle climate change. If it weren’t for the news headlines, however, patients wouldn’t be informed of this change. 

Veganism by stealth has triggered a much-needed debate about the way in which public bodies are taking it upon themselves to alter our diets, regardless of whether we give our consent. The issues posed by this form of nanny statism are twofold. Firstly, I’m uncomfortable with anyone telling me what I should or shouldn’t be eating, let alone by those I rely on as a taxpayer to provide a very specific public service. In most cases, we are able to make decisions for ourselves - or as parents or carers - about what we believe is the best diet to follow. 

The idea that a care home, for example, would deprive an elderly loved one of a decent beef roast dinner in favour of mandated tofu, makes me incredibly uneasy. 

Equally, I would take umbrage at any child of mine being deprived of a nutrient-dense meat-based lunch in the school canteen in favour of some processed goop – plant-based or otherwise. While we were satisfied with assurances from the then Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi that the Department of Education would eventually intervene on cases where parents were unhappy with decisions to only offer vegan catering, we would like to see the onus being placed on the schools to always provide a choice between meat and plant-based by default. 

I believe in the power of a free market. I have no objection to plant-based food companies coming up with products that rival meat or dairy produce, provided they do so honestly. That means not making sweeping statements about the livestock farming industry in this country or making incorrect claims about the eco-superiority of plant-based alternatives. Readers may remember when Tesco was hauled over the coals by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for claiming that swapping beef burgers for its vegan 'Plant Chef' burgers "can make a difference to the planet". Unfortunately for Tesco it had not a jot of evidence that this was the case and given that the heavily-processed vegan burgers included ingredients shipped from all over the world, the ASA told Tesco that the adverts must not appear again. 

It is particularly sinister, therefore, that those pushing the imposition of veganism may likely be doing so because the public simply aren’t conforming or being persuaded by the seemingly endless propaganda pushing us to go plant-based.

As The Telegraph reports, consumer intelligence firm NielsenIQ UK reports that sales of chilled meat alternatives fell by 16.8 per cent in January 2023 compared with the year prior, with frozen meat substitutes dropping 13.5 per cent over the same period. 

The second issue is that of the rationale behind why public bodies feel the need to virtue signal. It is a source of huge irritation that many public bodies lazily copy and paste lines warning of the negative environmental impact of global livestock farming without bothering to consult farming groups based in this country. 

Red meat produced in Britain is among the most sustainable in the world and very little meat consumed in the UK comes from systems that deplete rainforests and generate large amounts of emissions.

Only recently, one local authority which had subscribed itself to a month-long promotion of cutting out meat and dairy, hastily withdrew after being reminded of the facts about UK livestock farming by the Countryside Alliance. It was a crumb of victory in an otherwise relentless fightback which we find ourselves having to tackle on an almost weekly basis. 

Improving the climate outlook is not about reducing the quantity of meat consumed, but ensuring that we eat produce reared sustainably in Britain. Making a conscious effort to buy local, seasonable produce or supermarket items marked with the UK flag is undoubtedly better for the environment than flying in tons of avocados and quinoa from South America. 

As many of you will be aware, the Countryside Alliance has launched a counter-campaign to councils’ vegan initiatives, asking that meat and meat-free options are always present and sourced from local farmers and growers. Additionally, we ask that local authorities use their substantial communication platforms to encourage the importance of shopping locally, sustainably, and seasonally. This is certainly a more inclusive and progressive way of achieving a reduction in emissions. 

We have seen 10 major local authorities vote through our alternative motion and we will be pursuing other councils to follow in the coming months. 

There are also some incredibly promising moves taking place to procure sustainable game in the public sector.

Patients and staff at three of Guy’s and St Thomas’ (GSTT) hospitals have already began receiving meals with venison, in addition to several other NHS Trusts trialling pheasant, partridge and venison on their menus as part of a project driven by British Game Assurance.

And recently, a specialist dyslexia school in Lichfield started serving venison from their own deer herd as part of its meal menu for students. Maple Hayes Hall Dyslexia School sits in a 200-acre estate which is home to a managed heard of 42 deer, including two stags and seven young males. The venison is culled on site under a Food Standards Agency Licence, before being processed nearby.

We hope to see other public bodies follow suit, and the Countryside Alliance will continue to help spearhead those efforts. 

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