Jeremy Clarkson has backed farmers protesting against a plan to ban meat and dairy from council events, calling it “utter, utter madness”.
Oxfordshire county council is proposing to provide only vegan food at all future meetings and events, and to put more plant-based meals on school lunch menus.
The ruling Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green Party alliance in Oxfordshire said the move was part of its efforts to tackle climate change.
Farmers protested outside County Hall in Oxford against the plans this week as part of the Oxfordshire Food and Farmers Rally.
Clarkson tweeted: “Farmers of Oxfordshire. I wish I’d know about your protest today. I’d have been there like a shot.”
The former Top Gear host and star of Clarkson’s Farm went on to say that the plan was “Madness. Utter utter madness.”
In December Ian Middleton, a Green Party councillor, tabled a motion to ensure that all food provided at Oxfordshire county council’s events would be “entirely plant based”. The motion also called for more plant-based menus to be made available for school lunches to encourage students to “be empowered” when making food choices.
Under the plans, which were passed by the full council in December, the authority said it would “ensure that food provided at all council catered events and meetings is entirely plant-based, preferably using ingredients sourced from local food surplus organisations”.
The motion said global meat and dairy production was a “significant contributor” to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. It added: “Reducing consumption of these foods is a key part of tackling climate change.”
Liz Leffman, leader of the council, said: “This is about councillors taking a stand and saying we want to make our planet more sustainable, make agriculture more sustainable and we will source that produce locally wherever we can.”
David Bartholomew, an opposition Conservative councillor, said that the decision was dictatorial and individuals should be left to decide meals for themselves.
“The Conservative opposition believes that veganism is a choice that should be respected,” he said. “But it is not something that should be rammed down the throats of vegetarians and meat eaters. A carrot not a stick approach should be employed.”
The plans are due to go before the cabinet of the council for approval on March 15.
Enfield council in north London became the first local authority to introduce a similar move in July 2020.
Richard Binning, a beef farmer from Steventon, Oxfordshire, said: “The message they are sending out is really dangerous, they are suggesting it’s OK to eat avocados from Brazil, instead of our wholesome British beef.
“There are new environmental measures coming out from central government and the National Farmers Union have made an environmental pledge, so we are doing our bit and eating local is a really important part of that.”
David Pill, who runs a farm near Wantage, joined the protest in order “to give the freedom of choice for the councillors to choose what they eat”.
“I think veganism is a choice,” he said. “We are not telling you to eat meat, of course, that would be wrong, but in the same breath they can’t tell their councillors and everyone that they’ve got to eat a vegan diet.
Puritanical vegan hectoring should be kept off the menu
“People look up to Oxfordshire county council, and with this motion in place it could have a rippling effect later down the line. All of us farmers are worried about the effect this will have on us.”
Hannah Dorling, a member of the National Farmers Union, said local seasonal produce had been “overlooked” by the council.
“We understand that the councillors’ are looking towards the government’s net-zero goal, and that they have been encouraged to reduce meat and dairy consumption by a fifth by 2025, but we just feel that local, seasonal produce has been overlooked,” she said.
“We have some excellent Oxfordshire producers in the area that could produce food that does not have to travel far, and unfortunately, although we understand the vegan choice, sometimes importing those foods results in a lot of air miles, which goes against the council’s goal.”