The world is at a peculiar crossroads right now when it comes to our meat consumption.
On one hand, we know that the meat industry, although it feeds many mouths, requires a staggering amount of resources, is responsible for a great deal of environmental damage, and is prone to covering up pervasively poor standards of animal welfare. As a result, the vegan and vegetarian movements have entered the mainstream substantially. (It wasn't so long ago that almond milk was nowhere to be found.)
On the other hand, we have a rapidly increasing world population that wants more, more, more. Plus, we've been privy to a new movement of animal husbandry and butchering practices that push for better animal care, more efficient use of non-prime cuts of meat, and more conscientious farming practices—the free-range, organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, and so forth.
Kerry McCarthy, a new vegan member of British Parliament who serves under Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, has been stirring the pot with her recent suggestion of how, exactly, the UK should move forward in this debate.
McCarthy has not pleased the British farming industry with her suggestion that meat-eaters be treated like the previous generation's self-destructive types: smokers. And with that, she hopes that the government would consider instating public service announcements to discourage meat consumption.
As an MP for Bristol East, McCarthy currently serves as the "shadow farming minister," but she also serves as vice president of the anti-hunting group League Against Cruel Sports, according to the UK's Telegraph.
In a recent interview with vegan magazine Viva! life, McCarthy self-identified as "militant" in terms of her views about meat. McCarthy has been a vegetarian for 30 years and a vegan for 20.
"I really believe that meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it," she told the magazine. "Progress on animal welfare is being made at EU level … but in the end it comes to not eating meat or dairy." (Interestingly, a study of NHS resources from earlier this month revealed that more Brits are dying from the adverse effects of a poor diet than from smoking.)
In terms of her main beef with beef, McCarthy cites "the environmental impact of livestock farming." But she also had some choice words about the recent crisis in the UK's milk industry, wherein dairy farmers are actually losing more money than they gain due to an flooded market and low store prices.
"Too much milk is being produced," McCarthy explained, "and if you live by the market you have to risk dying by the market." Those words might come across a bit tough, considering that 48 percent of British dairy farmers have been forced to leave the industry in the past decade.
As the Labour Party seeks support in Britain's rural population, McCarthy's comments might not resonate so well. Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance told the Telegraph, "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."
But after her comments in the magazine didn't exactly thrill industry folk—or, well, many meat-eaters—McCarthy attempted to explain her stance as more moderate.
"The world is not going to turn vegan because I am in post … 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," she said in an interview on the show Farming Today on BBC Radio 4.
She also assured listeners that she would listen to counterpoints: "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."
Regardless, reactions on social media continue to be mixed.
Perhaps Twitter user Olly Hudson is on to something with this remark:
And then again, maybe it's just really damn hard to take the sausages and burgers off the UK's plates.