The UK environment secretary Michael Gove has angered vegan groups by insisting that meat eating is an important element of a healthy human diet.
His comments came in a recent interview with the Guardian on Britain’s post-Brexit food and farming policy. The newspaper asked the Defra minister whether, given the known environmental impacts of livestock farming, that the government might consider advising that people reduce their meat consumption. Gove told the paper: “For health reasons there’s an appropriate level of meat in anyone’s diet which doctors and nutritionists would advise us to consume.
He added: “… while I respect the rights of people who might be vegan or vegetarian to make that choice, nevertheless I don’t think anyone should be shy or abashed in drawing attention to the fact that livestock farming contributes to the mixed farming methods that provide a specific set of farming benefits and that mixed farming and meat is part of a balanced diet.”
“For health reasons there’s an appropriate level of meat in anyone’s diet which doctors and nutritionists would advise us to consume”
The vegan campaign group Viva! Said that comments showed that Gove had “lost the plot”. In a statement, the group said: “Gove is clearly completely out of touch with what constitutes a healthy diet. Cow’s milk and dairy foods are linked to a huge number of illnesses and diseases including teenage acne, allergies, arthritis, some cancers, colic, constipation, coronary heart disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, dementia, ear infection, food poisoning, gallstones, kidney disease, migraine, autoimmune conditions, including multiple sclerosis, overweight, obesity and osteoporosis.”
Separately, a group of 30 doctors have written an open letter to the environment secretary denouncing his “inaccurate” comments. In the letter, the doctors write: “The ‘Western’ diet, high in animal and processed foods, is the leading cause of illness and death contributing to high rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and hypertension.
“We know from many scientific studies that the longest lived, healthiest populations are those eating a predominantly plant-based diet”
“We know from many scientific studies that the longest lived, healthiest populations are those eating a predominantly plant-based diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.”
But food and farming charity the Sustainable Food Trust, which argues that with two thirds of hew UK farmland under grass, that “grazing animals and red meat are critically important to sustainable food production and healthy diets”. Responding to comments that Gove made at its recent Future of UK Farming conference, SFT chief executive, Patrick Holden, said: “It was heartening to hear Michael Gove recognise that livestock will play a central role in sustainable farming systems in the future.” SFT praised the Defra minister for “making the critical link between sustainable food systems and healthy diets”.
Photo: Kelly Sikkema, via Unsplah