Farmers and Bloodsports campaigners reacted with repressed fury, confusion and shock to the announcement that Kerry McCarthy – A VEGAN – had been selected as Labour’s shadow secretary of state for the environment, farming and rural affairs.
The farming press used emotive language in its coverage “Ms McCarthy… refuses to eat meat, dairy products or eggs” – refuses? was she tied to a chair while Countryside Alliance supporters forced bacon into her mouth? No, she has chosen not to eat meat or animal products. She has made an ethical choice to forego the consumption of food derived from animals. That does not mean she is (or has ever been) an animal rights extremist who wants to firebomb intensive broiler units.
Thankfully Farmers Weekly asked old chestnut UKIP farm spokesman and chicken farmer Stuart Agnew for a quote
“Kerry McCarthy will have little in common with either the producers or consumers of food and would be better described as the Corbynist who would like Defra to be renamed the Department for Eradication of Farmers and Rural Areas.”
And bloodsports champion Tim Bonner, recently made chief exec of the Countryside Alliance (who also happens to be a former Tory parliamentary candidate) predictably pointed out that since Ms McCarthy was against bloodsports, she must be therefore against the countryside and rural communities. That is the level of debate you can expect from the CA. Remember 80% of the public support the ban on hunting with dogs.
McCarthy has produced quite a detailed position statement on her website. She explains that she will not let her vegan ethics affect Labour’s policy in relation to the farming industry. Anyone who takes an interest in these issues will know that she has been very active in Parliament on agriculture and environmental issues for a long time – and has not taken a militant vegan position on farming at any time. Now Stuart Agnew or Tim Bonner’s view on what makes a militant vegan is bound to differ from the average person in the street, but they are both at the extreme ends of at least 2 spectra, so their views have to be seen in that context.
Bonner for example argues that shooting “cannot be separated out from the rest of rural life”. I am slightly surprised he did not write “hunting” – perhaps he did and it was edited out. Bonner’s argument is that shooting (and hunting) are so deeply embedded in the rural life of Britain that the rest of it will collapse without those sports continuing. Now I do not believe that all shooting should be banned. But I also find the idea that it is somehow woven into the DNA of rural life absurd and is itself an extreme position to take. Shooting is done by people for pleasure and it employs a small number of people in the economy. Neither of those things make it essential. After all, cock-fighting was exactly the same, until it was banned in 1835.
How many vegans are there in the UK? Statistics are hard to find, but one estimate of 150,000 in 2006 seems very low to me. Vegetarians may now number 4 million with many more adopting a “flexitarian” diet. This is quite a significant chunk of the population, compared to, say, the number of dairy farmers in Britain (less than 10,000).
The hysterical response from the farming and bloodsport industries, to McCarthy’s appointment, also has to be seen in another light. When Owen Paterson was appointed Defra Secretary of State, his appointment was lauded by farmers and bloodsports supporters because he agreed with them. He was also criticised because he was, and is, a climate change denier. He is also in favour of lifting the ban on hunting with dogs.
McCarthy’s decision to become vegan was an ethical one. What ethics drive Paterson’s choices to deny climate science and support the killing of wild animals for pleasure?