I was very frustrated watching the one-sided discussion on Question Time last night about Kerry McCarthy. The audience member’s question was:
Is putting a vegan, who likens meat-eaters to smokers, in charge of DEFRA, contempt or inspired leadership?
David Dimbleby quickly corrected the questioner:
She’s not actually in charge, she’s the Shadow Environment Secretary.
But then added a mistake of his own:
Kerry McCarthy, who today said ‘Meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco with public campaigns to stop people eating it’
This quote wasn’t new. It was taken from an interview McCarthy gave much earlier this year for the Spring edition of the magazine Viva!Life, well before she was appointed Shadow Environment Secretary.
The columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer and Conservative MP Ken Clarke both dismissed McCarthy’s views as ‘nonsense’ and invoked a biological justification for meat-eating. Clarke said:
I just take the straight-forward view that if you look at the human condition, at our anatomy, our jaw, our digestive system, we’re plainly omnivores, we always have been.
Hartley-Brewer went a step further:
We need to eat meat… Have you checked what your teeth are for? They do different jobs, different teeth do different jobs.
Just because we have teeth that enable us to eat meat, does that mean we should? This argument doesn’t address the ethics of modern meat consumption.
Interestingly, Hartley-Brewer acknowledged that there was a ‘strong moral argument’ for people eating less meat and paying more for meat in order to ensure better conditions for livestock. That’s precisely the view that McCarthy advocates.
Clarke went on to say:
I admire Kerry’s view that she’s so consumed by her love of animals that she’s prepared to go onto a non-meat diet but I do think that it’s scientifically and realistically nonsense and I hope she’s got some rather more scientifically, factually based views on the environment if she’s going to cover that particular brief.
McCarthy’s views are likely rooted in more science and fact than Mr Clarke’s. McCarthy told Viva!Life that her motivation to become vegetarian and then vegan ‘wasn’t emotional or sentimental, rather it was entirely rational, logical. Why cause harm and suffering to others if it isn’t entirely necessary?’
Clarke only need look to Hansard for evidence of McCarthy’s scientific and factually-based reasoning. McCarthy secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons for World Vegan Day back in 2011 and addressed issues of animal welfare, dietary health, efficient land use, and the huge greenhouse gas emissions of the livestock industry. McCarthy also wrote a piece for the New Statesman raising concerns about animal agriculture’s contribution to world hunger and environmental degradation.
It was lamentable that Chris Bryant didn’t muster any of these arguments in defence of his shadow cabinet colleague. There was no evidence of environmental awareness on the panel.
UKIP Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans responded:
I actually don’t rule out the idea of a vegan, in theory, becoming a Shadow Agriculture Minister
How generous. One would hope that a person couldn’t be discriminated against because of their choice of diet.
We’ve had health secretaries that know sod-all about health, we’ve had education secretaries that know absolutely nothing about education, but this one – she is absolutely committed to the eradication of livestock farming and so I really don’t see how she can even begin to do her job.
Where is Evans getting this from? McCarthy’s statement on her appointment as Shadow Environment Secretary said:
Although I have been vegan for many years, this will not affect Labour policy in relation to the farming industry, although I am of course keen to see farmers adopt the highest welfare standards, and keen to develop policies which promote a move away from intensive, industrialised farming.
McCarthy also told Radio Four’s Farming Today programme:
People have this sort of slightly bizarre idea – the world is not going to turn vegan because I’m in post… I have my own personal views on what I choose to eat but I accept that we have a livestock industry in this country.
I was astounded by the narrow-mindedness of the Question Time panel. The status quo fails to acknowledge that all diets are a choice. Whenever someone asks me, ‘Why did you decide to be vegetarian?’ I counter, ‘No, you first, tell me why did you decide to eat meat?’