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OFC 18: Will meat eating be a thing of the past by 2100?

There was only really going to be one result when Oxford Farming Conference delegates debated the motion ‘this house believes that by 2100 meat eating will be a thing of the past’.

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Lively debate at #OFC18: Will meat eating be a thing of the past by 2100?

A roomful of farmers and associates was hardly likely to vote for an end to keeping livestock but opinions did move.

 

Before the debate started the 400 strong audience was asked to vote in a straw poll.

 

Only 20 were in favour of the motion but it did not faze proposer, journalist and campaigner George Monbiot.

 


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“I know I will be as popular here as a Jehovah’s Witness arriving on the doorstep during a cup final but I believe the way we produce food is an even bigger issue than climate breakdown.

 

"Livestock keeping is a phenomenally wasteful way to use land. Keeping sheep is a very effective way to reduce an ecosystem to almost nothing.”

 

Mr Monbiot had calculated that if all the agricultural land in the UK was devoted to crops it could feed 200 million people.

His seconder, Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming kept up the pressure.

 

“Humans started corralling and keeping animals for food when the world population was only one million. We are still doing it but it is a cruel and wasteful process. Meat eating is past its sell by date.”

 

But the opposition had its argument well marshalled. Welsh hill farmer Gareth Wyn Jones said he spoke from the heart and not as a great debater.

 

His family had kept 4,000 ewes on the same hillside in Wales for 350 years. For all that time, along with 22 other farms in the area they took the ewes off the hill in the winter to preserve the blanket moss.

 

 

He and his neighbours instinctively managed the land in an environmentally friendly way.

 

“As regards meat eating I recently spent a day with a vegan. As I showed him round the farm and explained what we did. I realised that education is the key.

 

“We did not agree about everything but he understood a lot more. It went so well he gave me a big hug, in a manly way, before he left.”

 

Norfolk dairy farmer and researcher Emily Norton, seconding Mr Wyn Jones pointed out that cows had cleverly ensured their survival as a species by being of service to man.

 

Meat eating should not be associated with guilt, she said.

 

But she clinched her argument by producing and lighting a candle.

 

“It is more than 100 years since the electric light bulb was invented but more candles are sold now than there were then. It will be the same with meat.”

 

There would be plenty of crop-based meat substitutes by 2100 but the ‘real thing’ would still be popular.

There were contributions and points of order from the audience, all in good humour.

Norfolk farmer and UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew said flatulence would defeat vegetarianism.

 

“If we had all eaten only beans before we came here we would have blown the roof off by now,” he joked.

 

Sportingly, Suffolk farmer Philip Merricks supported Mr Monbiot.

 

“I am an arable farmer but I have kept cattle and sheep in the past.

 

"Why would you want to spend half your life with your hand up a sheep’s backside when you could be sitting in a comfortable tractor cab? It is much easier growing crops” he insisted.

 

More seriously, Essex farmer and NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “The idea that no-one will eat meat by 2100 is toxic nonsense.”

 

It turned out that most of the audience agreed.

 

By the time the votes were counted 120 had supported the motion with 296 against it.

 

In other words, George Monbiot and Philip Lymberry had persuaded 100 people to change their minds.

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