There was a nifty about-turn last week when the so-called Nudge Unit, the government’s behavioural policy advisory body, abandoned its proposals to get us to shift towards a plant-based diet and away from eating meat. Among other exciting intiatives it suggested ‘building support for a bold policy’ such as a tax on producers of mutton and beef. It pointed out that the government could get people used to a vegetarian diet through its spending in hospitals, schools, prisons, courts and military facilities – you can just imagine how that would go down with soldiers, prisoners and patients – and declared that a ‘timely moment to intervene’ would be when people are at university. But it also acknowledged that an ‘unsophisticated meat tax would be highly regressive’.
It may ultimately have been that factor that caused the unit to back off from this bovine – hah – move. Because an undiscriminating meat tax would indeed be regressive, and not just socially. Environmentally, contrary to what the exciting vegan movement woud have you believe, it would be unsustainable and counter-productive. This week four militant vegans scaled the ugly Home Office/Defra building to ‘send a clear message that we want an end to support for animal agriculture which is killing our planet’. Their banner read: ‘COP26: Invest in a plant-based future.’ And it seems the COP26 delegates are going to be fed a predominantly plant based menu. A missed opportunity, I say, to showcase sustainable Scottish fish, meat and dairy products.
The obvious point, which should hardly need making, is that not all plant food is equally beneficial and not all meat, fish and dairy is equally problematic. In fact, locally produced meat from animals grazed on grass or salt marshes, kept in low densities on impoverished hillsides, is not just unproblematic; they’re part of the solution to a regenerative agricultural system that can increase the diversity of our plant, animal and insect life.