Vegan campaigns which aim to demonise farming could be doing the movement more harm than good.
Veganism has been synonymous with extreme marketing material - often including false claims about farming practices - and in some cases, violent protests and intimidation on farms and outside abattoirs.
But speakers at the Vegan Society’s Grow Green conference heard this militant behaviour could be putting people off becoming vegan as they did not want to be associated with it.
Colm O’Dowd, a former livestock farmer who has switched production to a fully plant based system, said: “Harmful posters about what farmers supposedly do to their animals are not helping the vegan cause.”
Brendan Montague, editor of The Ecologist, said farmers were essential to food production and for the UK plant based sector to be sustainable it would have to rely on homegrown products rather than imports.
“We need to build resilience into our farming communities, not abuse them,” he said.
Carina Perkins, buying and supplying editor at The Grocer, said their own research had shown 85 per cent of consumers recognised the term ‘plant based’ but that a proportion had been put off trying ‘vegan’ food because of the ‘negative messaging and the association with activism’.
Ms Perkins added it was a ‘dangerous game’ to say vegan food was better for the environment.
“Alternative meat and dairy is not sustainable because it has a lot of processing,” she told the conference at the British Library.
“Why do we need to replace food with meat and dairy alternatives when people are still not eating enough fruit and vegetables?”
Nina Pullman, Riverford Organics, said provenance was not a driver in the plant based market, with ingredients such as soya and almonds produced with ‘environmentally destructive’ impacts.
Not only did importing these foodstuffs expose the UK to trade volatility, but it was also a wasted opportunity not to support British farmers.
Lincolnshire mixed farmer John Turner called for the Government’s Food Strategy ‘to be shaped around what we can grow here’.
He used the example of fava beans, which he used to grow for animal feed but now sells to online health food retailer Hodmedod’s.
Mr Turner added: “It is the first time in my farming career someone has come back to me, wanting to pay more for a crop.
“Subsidies have stigmatised farming. I would much rather that money be used in market development for crops we can grow in this country. That is what is going to add value to UK agriculture.”