In this second part of the interview, Alice caught up with Tim Thorpe from the Vegan Society to talk about their plans for a Food Sustainability Bill and a Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill.
The Vegan Society started in 1944 with a disagreement between vegetarians over whether consuming non-meat animal products could be considered vegetarian. Having steadily grown since then, they have, over the last decade, seen exponential growth from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 vegans in 2019.
Whilst they provide support and resources to those going vegan as discussed in my previous article, they now also conduct national campaigns. I caught up with Tim their Campaigns Officer to ask him what exactly these campaigns are about.
by taking a legislative approach you challenge the policy making sphere
With the current Prime Minister not being a vegetarian (unlike the Leader of the Opposition and his predecessor) it may seem odd for the Vegan Society to take the legislative approach. However, Tim highlighted that in the face of a growing climate emergency all approaches must be taken.
Some of these approaches are on an individual level such as ‘Plate up for the Planet’ and Veganuary. Others focus on local efforts such as campaigns for councils to make catering plant based in schools and other services. However, Tim stressed that by taking a legislative approach you challenge the policy making sphere.
In his view it cannot just be an individual effort, but all parts of the food system must adapt to a plant-based approach. This is as half of the world’s agricultural land is used to grow food for animals. Often the land conversion stage (when the land is changed perhaps from forest to farmland) is the point which causes the greatest climate impact.
I asked if products like soy that are shipped from overseas can really be seen as more environmentally friendly than say milk from the cow down the road. Tim pointed out that a lot of the soy consumed in the UK is from Europe and the soy grown in South America is used to feed animals in Europe and elsewhere. So, while a pint of soy milk only leads to one shipment of soy into the country, a pint of cow’s milk may need multiple shipments into the country.
the Food Sustainability Bill was partially written in response to Britain’s withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy
I asked Tim whether this would change with Brexit, and he said it was hard to tell how the food supply chain is going to react. However, he pointed out how recent shakeups in the global markets showed a need for growing food sustainability and self-sufficiently.
In fact, the Food Sustainability Bill was partially written in response to Britain’s withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy. It was also written in response to the Agricultural Act 2020’s restructuring of Environmental Land Management Schemes and the risk that it uses oversimplified economics in relation to agriculture.
Instead, the vegan society proposes a food sustainability approach that focuses on “health; economy and just work; environment and climate; social and cultural values; governance; and food quality” alongside a Well-Being of Future Generations Bill.
there is a worry that should we move away from herd-based farming many communities will be left without jobs
The Well-Being of Future Generations Bill would be like the one already in place in Wales which requires the bodies listed to “think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.”
There is a worry that should we move away from herd-based farming many communities will be left without jobs, and ultimately hollowed out like the fate of the mining communities and some dairy farmers as conglomerates take control. However, Tim said there was a need for labour regulation changes as well as alternative land management options that needed to be supported.
I asked Tim if he thought measures such as the tax we now see on sugar should be brought through in relation to animal products. Tim said it was something that had been discussed not just by the Vegan Society but also the National Food Strategy, but was rejected as not politically workable. Tim warned, however, that if action isn’t taken soon, it might be a tool that is needed.
I finally asked Tim what would happen to the animals if we stopped farming them? He answered, “If people stopped eating cabbage what would happen to the cabbage?” and with that question in mind I will leave you to ponder what a future without herds of animals might look like and how far our attachment to them perhaps ignores the realities of our food systems.
It will be interesting to see how far the Vegan Society’s legislative proposals are noticed. If they are, it could lead to the greatest transformation in British agriculture since the creation of the plough.
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