Struggling for a New Year’s Resolution?
Each January, hundreds of thousands across the UK and the rest of the world join in with Veganuary. The annual challenge involves participants pledging to follow a vegan diet for the month of January, cutting all animal-derived products from their diet, with some participants going further and cutting animal products from their lifestyle entirely for the month. Last year, over 620,000 took the pledge to try the vegan diet, and since the initiative was launched in 2014, the challenge has gained increased media attention and participants with each passing year. Cognisant of the growing popularity of Veganuary, many companies and brands will release special vegan products during the month of January. For example, this year, Asda has launched its own brand new vegan range of food products, with over 100 vegan products for customers to choose from.
Beyond January, however, many are now choosing a plant-based diet as a long-term lifestyle choice and vegan products in our shops and supermarkets are staying on shelves for much longer than just January. The number of vegans in the UK is also steadily increasing. With the current focus on the global climate crisis, these numbers do not look set to reduce in the coming years. Indeed, market research group Mintel found that 49% of people in the UK are now limiting their meat consumption.
It's not just consumers making changes, however – the agricultural industry in the UK is also beginning to become increasingly involved in the discussion around plant-based living and sustainability.
The agriculture industry in the UK is a sector that is a major source of harmful greenhouse gas emissions – in particular, methane gas, with agriculture being responsible for an estimated 48% of all methane emissions in the UK in 2020. Livestock in particular is one of the main sources of methane gas, and farmers, like the rest of the UK population, are becoming increasingly aware of their own and their sector’s carbon footprint. In recent years, various organisations have emerged to help farmers combat these emissions and make changes towards more environmentally-friendly farming.
Farmers for Stock Free Farming (FFSFF) is a Scottish-based, grass roots organisation whose purpose is helping to support farmers who want to transition to animal-free agriculture. Speaking to the BBC last year, their executive director acknowledged that, in the UK, farmers have been in a difficult position for some time, given the impacts of Brexit, the low price of produce and the detrimental impact animal farming can have on the environment. FFSFF helps to inspire farmers to make different choices and explore different revenue streams beyond simply growing crops. Using land for glamping, for example, is one of the suggestions they have for farmers who are looking to move away from animal farming in a way that is financially viable.
They are not alone in this mission. UK organisation Refarm’d is another UK-based company whose mission is to help farmers transition away from farming livestock. In particular, Refarm’d works with dairy farmers and helps them in the process of selling plant-based dairy products and substitutes. With demand for milk substitutes growing, and the difficulties smaller dairy farms are facing in terms of running a profitable business, more dairy farmers may be looking for ways they can make the transition to producing plant-based milk alternatives.
Across the agriculture sector, there is an acknowledgement that the demand for plant-based products is growing exponentially and farmers keen on reducing their carbon footprint are looking towards new, more environmentally-friendly ways of making money from the land they own.
The Vegan Land Movement is a Community Interest Company and a crowd-funded platform in the UK which, at its core, understands the importance land ownership plays in animal agriculture. Their mission is to buy up parcels of land being put up for sale, either by farmers or with agricultural development in mind, and use these instead for more environmentally-friendly purposes. To date, the group has bought 25 acres across four parcels of land by outbidding farmers at auctions. Three of these plots are now being re-wilded, with trees being planted on them and the fourth is potentially going to become a veganic community orchard.
By buying up this land, preventing it from being used for agriculture, they are playing a vital role in helping to promote and protect not only the environment, but also biodiversity. Diminishing biodiversity, that is the variety of animals and plants present in an environment, is a serious problem in the UK. The State of Nature Report in 2019 found that 41% of the UK’s species have declined, in part due to the impacts of agriculture and climate change. The Report found that changing agricultural management has had the biggest single impact on nature in the UK over recent decades, with 72% of UK land managed for agriculture.
Despite some efforts being made to reverse this, it looks as though this is a trend that is set to continue, and declining biodiversity could have a disastrous impact on our ecosystems. The State of Nature Report highlighted a need to slow down agricultural expansion, but there is a lack of any real desire to make legislative changes at government level. So, grass roots organisations like the Vegan Land Movement are at the heart of the fight to save our rapidly dwindling native biodiversity.
Overall, while Veganuary is a great challenge and opportunity for people to learn more about the ways in which what they eat and where it comes from impacts the environment, making positive changes to support the environment should be a year-round commitment for us all, not just for January. Declining biodiversity and the continued growth of the UK’s agricultural sector is something that, if not seriously curbed, could have disastrous consequences for everyone.
So, as thousands across the country take part in Veganuary this month, we should all take the time to consider the impact of commercial farming not only on livestock, but on the animals and nature around us as well.
This article was co-written by Georgie Naysmith, Trainee Solicitor.