Central Bedfordshire Council sign

Council promotion of plant-based food and locally-produced meat and dairy is off the menu

An amended motion proposed by Cllr Tracey Wye (Ind, Potton) for Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) to promote the ‘benefits of plant-based food, and choosing locally-produced meat and dairy’ was rejected by councillors at CBC’s full meeting on Thursday (22 April 2021).

Cllr Wye said:

“Central Bedfordshire is doing some good work on its sustainability plan and I’m pleased to see that the concept of climate change has been embraced across departments.

“However, a lot of this work is still in the planning stage, and we are not quite at the point where there is much to make public.

“I believe making subtle changes to diet and encouraging people to consider the provenance of the food they buy is something we can do now.

“I would like to underline that this is encouraging people, we are not in the business of telling people what they can and can’t spend their money on.”

Cllr Wye added that the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, had endorsed reducing meat intake and said this would help the government to reach its 2035 reduction in emissions target.

During the debate, Cllr Gareth Mackey (Ind, Flitwick) told the members that he was torn on this motion having come from a farming background. He said:

“My difficulty comes when we start to engage in personal choice and try to influence people.

“What people eat is intensely personal and I have difficulties in our position as a council to make that choice for people, directly or indirectly.”

Before the council meeting, Cllr Wye had amended her motion to include promoting locally-produced meat and dairy. She said to Cllr Mackey:

“This will support farmers and choice as it is just information, and no one is forced to change.”

Cllr Alison Graham (Ind, Silsoe and Shillington) said she would have voted against the original motion, but the adapted motion was more to her taste:

“This is pushing a balanced diet and I find this perfectly acceptable. It is not bullying people into doing something it is saying these are the options and these are your choices.”

Cllr Richard Wenham (Con, Arlesey) said:

“I have serious issues about both government and local government interfering in people’s personal choices about their diet and there is still an underlining message within this motion of veganism, rather than just promoting a healthy diet.”

Cllr Wye said:

“The Conservative government literally today announced we should look at food choices and their links to carbon emissions.

“So Central Government thinks it’s appropriate to give these sort of messages to people, I don’t think we should shy away from it.”

Cllr Eugene Ghent (Con, Dunstable Watling) was concerned about promoting a vegan cookbook, he said:

“The council is not in the business of promoting specific authors or books. Surely we will have to equally promote books for those who prefer to eat meat.”

In response to Cllr Ghent, Cllr Wye said:

“I follow the library service on social media and they regularly promote books and readings. So it is something they are already doing, which is why I had the idea.”

Cllr Hayley Whitaker (Ind, Biggleswade South) admitted that she was a ‘card-carrying carnivore’, but said that the Council would be going against the tide if it voted against the motion:

“This is an issue that has been raised at the international and national level only in the last few days. If we don’t pass this motion today, we will be doing something very similar in 12 to 18 months time.”

Cllr Wye concluded her proposal by adding:

“If we [as a council] never encourage anyone to change because it’s not our place, then are we not able to ask people to change their vehicles, use less water or save energy?”

The vote was 19 for the motion, 28 against, and 7 councillors abstained.