Meat of the Matter: A smoking pun

Here's yet another attempt by a vegan extremist to re-define the public's understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet.

And this one is as edgy as it gets.

According to Great Britain's new "shadow" farming minister, meat should be "treated like tobacco with a public campaign to stop people eating it."

Before we deconstruct that ludicrous assertion, a brief note on the concept of a shadow government.

Under Great Britain's parliamentary system, the party that wins a majority in Parliament elects the country's Prime Minister. However, the leader of the opposition party that lost the previous election in this case veteran Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn names an entire "shadow cabinet" of nearly 30 people. The idea is that the public now has an idea of who would be running the government, should the opposition party regain a parliamentary majority in the next national election.

Corbyn is a longtime leftie who has been kept outside Labour's governing hierarchy for most of his career. His ascension to opposition leader, according to The Guardian newspaper, was a story of "inexperienced young insurgents and veteran left-wingers, who had long since resigned themselves to careers in the political wilderness, realizing suddenly and ecstatically that they had a chance to capitalize on years of pent-up frustration with the direction the party had moved."

Thus it's no surprise that Corbyn named as shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs one Kerry McCarthy, a Member of Parliament from the Bristol East and a diehard vegan who also serves as vice president of the anti-hunting group League Against Cruel Sports.

One of the first things McCarthy did after being named to what is essentially an honorary post was to attack British farmers with her condemnation of meat. In an interview with the vegan mag Viva!life, she admitted that she wants the government to clamp down on meat-eating.

"I really believe that meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it," she said. "Progress on animal welfare is being made at EU level, but in the end it comes down to not eating meat or dairy.

Then she proclaimed, "The constant challenging of the environmental impact of livestock farming is making me more and more militant."


A reversal of position

Of course, in the end McCarthy is a politician. And what do politicians do? They appeal to their most rabid supporters with extremist rhetoric, then turn around walk back their positions when talking to a mainstream audience.

Want proof? After declaring her "militancy" to a vegan audience, here's what she told a BBC reporter:

"The world is not going to turn vegan because I am in post," she said on the "Farming Today" show on BBC Radio 4. "I have my own personal views on what I choose to eat, but I accept that we have a livestock industry in this country. What I want is for the industry to have the best welfare standards possible, to be sustainable as well as economically viable."

McCarthy promised that she would listen to other people's views in her new post.

"It's important to have someone in the role who doesn't see it as a steppingstone to a different post, but is really keen to get engaged in the issues," she said. "There will be different viewpoints, there will be violent disagreements, but it's about trying to listen to the evidence, approach things with an open mind and I am very much prepared to do that."

Plainly put, that's load of bull, and the reaction of industry officials and ordinary British citizens alike underscores how little credibility she enjoys.

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, a pro-farming, pro-hunting group that "champions and support British farmers and producers and believes that food and farming are "central to the character and well-being of Britain," reacted by telling London's The Telegraph that, "Kerry McCarthy's views on meat-eating and livestock farming are completely out of step with the vast majority of people. Her ideas are verging on the cranky."

Okay, I'm not hip to Brit-slang, but I'd have chosen an adjective a little stronger than "cranky."

A BBC listener put it more succinctly: "Her appointment is like having an Archbishop of Canterbury who's an atheist."

Commenters to The Telegraph story were equally critical. Here's a sampling:

·          (From Clare Swift): "Oh, the irony: Left wing pushing for liberalism with fascist policies."

·         (From Tom Harris): "Maybe separate train carriages for meat-eaters?"

·         (From DJHall): "Are we going to be prescribed steak patches to wean us off meat? And how will we prevent vegans" passive inhalation of bacon smells?"

Second-hand bacon smoke, indeed! How long before some veggie activist starts a campaign to regulate the "toxic effects" of bacon smoke on poor, unsuspecting vegetarians?

Anti-smoking activists have clearly adopted a game plan of regulate/restrict/repeal when it comes to people's right to smoke. That model hasn't abolished tobacco use, but it has certainly served to demonize anyone who continues the habit.

Industry must make sure that radicals like Kerry McCarthy, who are following the exact same trajectory, are kept where they belong: in a dark and lonely corner of the public realm.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.