by Kat Smith
According to Dutch animal welfare organisation, Wakker Dier’s research, the EU spends £166m on the “promotion of agricultural products” annually. From saying that veal production gives ‘value’ to male calves born as a by-product of the dairy industry, to countering evidence that red meat is linked to cancer, these campaigns have sold the narrative that meat is good.
At first, I was genuinely hesitant to write this article. The caricature of the ‘preachy vegan’ is one I’ve tried to keep at arm’s length, and I’m sure that some people reading this will see the V-word and immediately recoil. But seeing that people will go so far as to fund propaganda to disprove literal science made me feel compelled to say something. There is proof that the livestock sector is responsible for more emissions than all transport combined. There is proof that pork, beef and lamb products are linked to cancer. We laugh in the face of climate change deniers but don’t want to swallow the pill that eating meat is not all that great, even when it’s handed directly to us.
Many of the projects given subsidies by the EU have a stated ambition of stopping the decline in meat consumption – due to Europe’s young people increasingly turning to vegetarian and vegan diets. I understand that some people’s livelihoods depend on farming livestock and the production of animal products. But that’s not a strong enough argument. A job is not intrinsically a good thing – imagine saying crime is good because it provides a job for the police. That would be absurd. And after all, there will be no jobs on a dead planet.
These campaigns only play up to people’s confirmation bias. If you’re considering not eating animal products because you rationally know that it’s not good for the environment or the animals, but you really like a kebab after a night out, seeing an infographic or news headline that tells you that’s okay is going to be more appealing to you. We look for the information that confirms our beliefs – this coverage could easily allow people to turn a blind eye to the environmental and ethical horrors of eating animal products, just so they can enjoy their steaks and McDonald’s guilt-free. Everyone says they want to save the planet, but so few actually take the steps or make the sacrifices to do so. No one wants to feel like they’re harming the planet, and it’s only natural to look for validation that your actions are fine.
I’m devastated that the EU are putting profit and business above helping the health of their citizens and the planet we literally live on. It’s true that being vegan isn’t the easiest thing in the world and in many cases, some people genuinely don’t have the means to follow a vegan diet, whether this be geographical, health-wise or financially. But it’s definitely something that has an unnecessary amount of pushback, considering the positive impact it has on both the planet and our bodies. It’s a psychological battle for sure, especially when the convenience of eating everything is a lot easier, but being vegan is not the loss that so many people assume it is. But that’s for another article. What’s important is that a reduction in meat consumption can only be a good thing, both at an individual and worldwide level.
In one way, the fact that these campaigns exist is positive. At least, I’m trying to find some kind of silver lining here. It shows that the increasing popularity of veganism and vegetarianism in recent years is having some kind of impact, and is a testimony to the value of individual action. If there are campaigns falling over themselves to reverse the trend of vegetarianism, at least this shows we can actually do something.
Either way, I am devastated that the EU has been supporting campaigns with unfounded claims and purely profit/industry-driven aims. This is a huge wake-up call that we can always find the information we conveniently want to believe, but facing the truth can make the biggest impact.