Oxford Council Criticized For Promoting Climate Action And Plant-Based Diets

Oxfordshire County Council is facing opposition to its recommendation that residents follow a plant-based diet


3 Minutes Read

Farmer holding wooden box full of fresh vegetables The council wants more people to eat locally-sourced and plant-based foods - Media Credit: Adobe Stock

Oxfordshire County Council has launched a new campaign to encourage its residents to move towards a climate-friendly plant-based diet.

The Climate Action Oxfordshire (CAO) campaign website spotlights several actions people can take for the planet, including second-hand clothes shopping, choosing locally grown produce, and adopting a plant-based diet. It suggests that the latter could help people to reduce their dietary footprint by up to 73 percent.

The council has included advice from the Vegan Society, alongside a link to its app that helps new vegans make the right food choices.

CAO refers to plant-based diets as good for personal health and beneficial to the environment. It also links to a carbon footprint calculator.

Oxford’s steady acceptance of plant-based food

It was reported last year that an Oxford Green Party councilor called for all party events to be free from meat and dairy. The motion passed and led to an expansion of the practice, with Oxford County Council also choosing to remove meat and dairy from its catering options.

The move sparked backlash: Conservative Party MP David Bartholomew said: “Veganism should not be forced down people’s throats. It should be a matter of choice and education.”

Joining Batholomew in his disdain for the move were local farmers, including former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson.

Clarkson also personally faced off against the council. The confrontation came after he was denied planning permission to build a restaurant at his Diddly Squat farm. He overcame the obstacle through a technical loophole and opened a beef-only eatery.

Farmers fight back

The council now faces renewed opposition to its growing plant-based focus.

Rural life campaign group Countryside Alliance has written to each of Oxfordshire’s five district leaders. In its letters, it demands that they remove their support for the CAO website. The organization considers the promotion of plant-based living as a direct assault on local livestock farmers. It claims the farmers are producing meat and dairy using world-leading sustainable systems.

“No council, especially one that allegedly supports our farmers, should have anything to do with a website that seeks to undermine their hard work,” Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said in a statement.

“Challenging assumptions about the benefits of some plant-based products and the casual denigration of livestock farming matters, because if they are allowed to go unchallenged, they threaten the sustainability of both the planet and the countryside.”

The council responded, stating that its ambitions are in line with the UK government’s National Food Strategy, which recommends reduced meat consumption.

“A recent survey conducted by the Oxfordshire councils and the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership showed that local residents share the council’s concerns about climate change and feel the need to contribute to tackling it,” a council spokesperson said.

“We simply want to help people who want to make changes to help tackle climate change by making suggestions as to how they can do so. Helping tackle climate change is a key priority for Oxfordshire County Council.”

The best choice for the planet

Despite the farming sector’s claims, climate experts agree that animal agriculture contributes around 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This means that cutting meat and dairy offers a potentially faster route to climate crisis alleviation. 

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) board member states that climate targets will not be met without removing meat from plates. He is calling for a 30 percent drop in consumption. Though others have recommended significantly more drastic reductions.

West Sussex town Haywards Heath recently revealed its own climate commitments, by signing up for the Plant-Based Treaty. It was the first town in Europe to do so. Cambridge City and Lewisham councils have also committed to only serving plant-based food at events. And earlier this month, Lancaster council revealed it would consider a similar move.

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