Britain’s toxic meat culture is set to explode as a post-Brexit might mean less animal farming and more imports of meat products.
The ‘meat war’ is upon us, as meat-eaters rage against the mounting evidence that there might be something to all that ‘vegan propaganda’ we’ve been warned about. But it’s not just what we eat that is being fought over; it’s how it – particularly meat – is produced and how much that embodies a nation’s cultural identity.
The cultural importance that some sectors of British society attach to farming animals has been highlighted lately by the proposed post-Brexit free trade with Australia. This deal would allow cheaply-produced meat to be imported tariff-free into the UK, undercutting the prices of meat produced domestically. In response, agriculture industry figures and some politicians have not only objected to the unfair economics of the deal but have also been waxing lyrical about the meaning of British farming.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, told the Guardian, “We would not want to see
a loss of the traditional family farm,” whose numbers are already in freefall and is further threatened by the Australia trade deal. “We would lose the culture and heritage of this country, where 70% of the land is farmed and the expectation is that at the end of every farm track is a family. Our national identity is built on this.” Wales’ first minister Mark Drakeford said in a BBC interview: “How can our hill farmers compete with the space that is available for the huge farms they have in Australia? We are talking here about things which make Wales Wales. That is what is at stake here.”
It’s certainly fair to say that small-scale farms in the UK don’t deserve to be crushed by an unfair trade deal. Even those who want to see an end to animal farming for the sake of animal rights and the environment, such as Animal Rebellion, do not want it to come about by smaller farmers being forced out of the job or forced to adopt worse and more intensive farming practices to compete with cheap imports and big corporations.
Ending animal agriculture should always be about freeing animals from a life of exploitation, but it doesn’t have to mean ruin for farmers and their families – it can come about through a just and practical transition to plant-based farming or alternative land use, as is the aim of the Transfarmation programme by Mercy for Animals or the work of our friends at Refarm’d.
But the deal’s unfairness to farmers and the danger it poses to animals and the environment in potentially encouraging a further intensification of the UK’s meat production does not, therefore, make it a threat to Britain’s cultural identity. For this is what Batters, Drakeford, and others are claiming: that the very soul of the nation hinges on the survival of a certain British style of animal farming.
The perpetuation of this myth is another way for the meat industry to push back against any efforts to move people towards plant-based diets. It suggests that getting rid of animal farming would be some sort of assault on British values, that choosing to give up meat is an attack on Britain’s hardworking farmers themselves. This narrative certainly played out in the furore, kicked up by TV farmer Gareth Wyn Jones, over Blue Peter encouraging children to eat less meat.
The myth is also a way to try and stop people from seeing any alternative to the largely overgrazed upland landscapes that sheep in particular have produced. A Scottish animal farmer quoted in the Guardian said: “If [the Australia deal] does undermine our market, it not only puts farmers’ livelihoods at risk, it puts the environment at risk as well – the socioeconomic values of rural areas. If you don’t have people in agriculture in rural areas, then what else do we have? I know there is a push for rewilding, but do we want just a wilderness?”
Well, why not? The landscapes and ecosystems we have are not necessarily superior to others that could replace them if nature were left more to its own devices, and indeed most of the UK is far from in a healthy ecological state. Farming sheep and cows requires more land than any other food products. A reduction in sheep numbers in Wales, for example, could see a big increase in forested land.
This is certainly not to say that rural farming communities should just make way for rewilding. Rather it is to point out that there is paralysis and delusion in thinking that we have to keep doing what we’re doing because that’s what we’ve always done. We can acknowledge the historical value of certain ways of farming without insisting that they are the only or best way to produce food.
Moreover, animal farming may be central to the identity of some British people, but that is just not true for others. Indeed, the Britain that many people want to see is one that practices compassion and real equality, and for an increasing number of us that means for animals as well as humans.
Original source: https://www.surgeactivism.org