The impact a vegan Prime Minister would have is hard to imagine. Publicity and interest in veganism would likely increase many times over and the likelihood of positive legislative change for the environment and animal welfare would also greatly increase.
The annual political party conference season where politicians, party members, lobbyists and charities meet, exchange ideas and shape future party and government policy is upon us.
Expect lots of rousing speeches, interactive exhibition stands and interesting niche fringe events. This year The Vegan Society will be attending five of the main party conferences: Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and SNP.
Here is a run-down of the impact key politicians have had on veganism, both at home and abroad...
Committed vegetarian, Corbyn, was asked by a worker at Lush Cosmetics if he would take “the next logical step to veganism” this time last year. Mr Corbyn replied that he was “going through the process” of eating more vegan food.
This led to intense speculation that Corbyn was going vegan and presented the once unimaginable possibility of a future vegan PM. His office later clarified that he was in fact not going vegan, just eating more vegan food.
The impact a vegan PM would have is hard to imagine. Publicity and interest in veganism would likely increase many times over and the likelihood of positive legislative change for the environment and animal welfare would also greatly increase.
However, Corbyn’s office’s clarification is also a timely reminder that veganism is not currently considered a vote-winner – a call to action for all environmentalists, if we are to enact the real change required.
Michael Gove, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, has had a somewhat mixed impact on veganism. Positive points include admitting to being “predominantly herbivorous” and making some encouraging animal welfare changes like introducing CCTV in slaughterhouses and recently banning puppy-farms.
However, he also angered many doctors by stating: “Fresh dairy produce and protein sources such as fresh fish, offal and properly sourced meat are critical to human health.”
This is clearly untrue as both the British Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognise that totally plant-based diets are suitable for every age and life stage.
There was also the furore that erupted when Caroline Lucas’ amendment to the EU withdrawal bill, which explicitly recognised that non-human animals are sentient, was rejected by Conservative MPs. Following a social media campaign by animal rights groups, Mr Gove promised to make “any necessary changes” to UK law to recognise that other animals can feel pain.
Kerry McCarthy is one of five vegan MPs in the UK and former shadow environment, food and rural affairs minister. She made headlines when she was first appointed to the role for claiming that “meat should be treated like tobacco with public campaigns to stop people eating it”.
Many tabloid newspapers and farmers groups reacted negatively to her comments, but Kerry’s comments appear sensible when considering the harm meat and dairy are doing to the nation’s health, the environment and of course the vast number of animals who are slaughtered and exploited every year.
In 2013, Al Gore, prominent US environmentalist and former Vice-President to Bill Clinton, announced that he had switched to a vegan diet for environmental reasons.
Al Gore is an extremely-high profile environmentalist with his film, An Inconvenient Truth, receiving critical acclaim for highlighting the devastating impact of global warming.
His words and actions will have undoubtedly influenced a great number of environmentalists and inspired people to make the switch to a vegan diet worldwide.
In 2017, Portugal became the first country in the world to introduce legislation compelling all public sector canteens to provide a strict vegetarian (vegan) option on their daily menus. This followed a campaign and petition promoted by the Portuguese Vegetarian Society that started back in 2015.
Highlighting the gulf between UK and Portuguese politics, a relatively new political party, People-Animals-Nature (PAN), have a seat in the National Portuguese Assembly and a further seat in the Madeiran regional parliament.
PAN is a political party that is explicitly vegan; clearly, there is a lot more to be done before the UK reaches a position where a vegan political party could take a seat in parliament.
Founded in 2016, this new German political party is seeking to abolish the slaughter of animals by 2030. Federal President Roland Wegner states: “We are the new Greens, only brighter.”
Having only contested one election so far, V-Partei3 does not yet have any seats in the German Bundestag, but support and interest is building.
There are many reasons to be optimistic regarding politicians and veganism, however we acknowledge that there is still a long way to go before we are where we want and need to be. We are hoping that The Vegan Society’s activities at Party Conferences can be a good step towards making this happen.
The Vegan Society will be hosting a mix of exhibition stalls and fringe events at the conferences. The fringe events will take the form of panel discussions on healthy, sustainable food, and the impact of Brexit on UK agriculture in conjunction with SERA (Labour’s environmental association) and the Green Lib Dems.
Panellists will include: Social Association CEO Helen Browning OBE, WWF Campaigns Director Tony Juniper, Chair of The Real Junk Food Project Duncan Milwain, and Harvard University Researcher Helen Harwatt PhD.
The Vegan Society, along with V For Life, already sponsor the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Vegetarianism and Veganism, which meets four times a year to discuss all things relating to veganism with politicians and other stakeholders. Previous discussions have included the pros and cons of a legal definition of veganism and issues around vegan rights.
Switching to a vegan diet could be the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the earth, according to researchers at the University of Oxford.
Personal levels of food-related greenhouse gases, acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use would all reduce dramatically. With this in mind, The Vegan Society’s work at party conferences is all the more important, as politicians have it within their power to make a big difference at societal level.
Mark Banahan is campaigns and policy officer at The Vegan Society and a keen vegan and political activist. If you would like to learn more about veganism, sign up to the 7-day challenge here.