By Kerry McCarthy MP - 1st November 2011
Kerry McCarthy MP, one of Parliament's three vegan MPs, sets out the case for veganism on World Vegan Day.
November 1st is World Vegan Day, and as one of Parliament's three vegan MPs – which I'm told makes us the largest vegan caucus in the world – I thought it was about time we had a debate in the Commons chamber on the issue. There is also a Vegan Society event in Portcullis House today, to which MPs and staff will be lured by the offer of free vegan cupcakes, and the chefs have made a sterling effort to provide vegan meals all week in the main restaurants on the parliamentary estate.
In my debate I will touch on three main reasons for becoming vegan: the ethical case, the health case, and the environmental case. If you're a vegetarian for ethical reasons, you really ought to be vegan too. Millions of calves and male chicks are killed every year as 'waste products' of milk and egg production. The average lifespan of a dairy cow is around 6 years, compared to a natural lifespan of 20-25 years. Hens are forced to lay 20 times as many eggs as is natural for them.
There have been authoritative studies carried out on the links between a diet high in meat and dairy consumption with coronary heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Bill Clinton and Ozzy Osborne have recently become unlikely vegan for health reasons, in the latter case after watching the documentary film 'Forks Over Knives', which has also persuaded Russell Brand – already a vegetarian – to try veganism.
The environmental case for veganism is perhaps the most compelling. According to the 2005 UN report, "Livestock's Long Shadow", the livestock sector contributes 18 per cent of global greenhouse gases: that’s more than all forms of transport, including aviation, combined (at 13.5 per cent). It takes 8kg of grain (in animal feed) to produce 1kg of beef, 100 times as much water to produce 1kg of beef as it does to produce 1kg of vegetables, and 120 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of beef. And it takes almost 21 sq m of land to produce 1 kg of beef, (factoring in animal feed), compared with 0.3 sq m to produce 1 kg of vegetables. According to the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: "If all families would just have one meatless day a week, this would have the same beneficial effect on greenhouse gas emission as taking almost one million cars off the roads for an entire year."
I'm not expecting a great response from the Defra minister, who is after all, a dairy farmer himself, but I hope this debate places some of these issues on the agenda for further discussion.
Kerry McCarthyhas been Labour MP for Bristol East since 2005 and is a shadow Foreign and Commonwealth minister
McCarthy will be hosting a parliamentary event for World Vegan Day at 13:30 in room U, PCH. MPs can enjoy vegan cupcakes from award-winning baker, Ms Cupcake.