Jeremy Corbyn has appointed a vegan and vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports as his shadow Environment Secretary – potentially signalling a change in Labour’s policies towards country sports and livestock farming.
Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, takes over from Maria Eagle and will shadow Defra Secretary of State Liz Truss. Ms Eagle is promoted to shadow defence secretary in the Corbyn cabinet.
Ms McCarthy, who won her seat in 2005 and has served for four years as a shadow foreign office minister, tells voters via her website that she “was the first vegan MP in the House of Commons (there are now three) and has been a vegan for the past 20 years, having been a vegetarian for 10 years prior to that. She is a patron of the Vegan Society." She said she also "campaigns on animal welfare issues more generally, including in her capacity as Vice-President of the League Against Cruel Sports.”
Although many Labour MPs have long been opposed to hunting – and the party introduced the Hunting Act in 2005 – other country sports opposed by the League, including game shooting and stalking, have been supported by Labour, both in government and in opposition and it has always backed livestock farming.
Ms McCarthy’s appointment as part of a left-wing Corbyn-led shadow cabinet suggests a change of direction on shooting could be imminent and that policies on livestock farming may also be due for review – although Labour in government did not officially withdraw support from livestock farmers when Hilary Benn – also a vegetarian – was Defra Secretary in the last Labour government.
NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “We look forward to working with Kerry McCarthy MP in her new role as shadow Defra Secretary.
“The NFU will be lobbying across the political spectrum on key issues in the farming sector with BPS payments, the agri-growth strategy and the implementation of the 25-year TB eradication plan being just three of them. And we hope to work closely and productively with Ms McCarthy to demonstrate our key asks of present and future Government.
“The food and farming industry employs more than 3.8million people and agriculture contributed nearly £10billion to the economy between 2008 and 2014. These are just two statistics which highlight the importance of backing British farming.
“We would like to invite Ms McCarthy to pledge her support to the NFU’s Back British Farming campaign and to attend the NFU fringe event at the Labour Party Conference. We look forward to discussing the development of a national food strategy and the issues raised in Jeremy Corbyn’s recent Rural Renewal report with her.”
Country sports organisation were quick to register concerns at the appointment.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation said: “Ms McCarthy is a vegan, a Vice President of the League Against Cruel Sports and has previously said in correspondence with BASC that she is ‘against all shooting ‘sports’ where there’s a living creature on both ends of the gun.’
“BASC has asked for an urgent meeting to discuss the Labour Party’s policy towards shooting and its benefits to the economy, the environment and food.”
Richard Ali, Chief Executive of BASC said: “BASC hopes that Ms McCarthy, despite the positions she has taken in the past, will approach her new post of the basis of evidence based policy and the principles of better regulation introduced by the last Labour government. BASC will expect Ms McCarthy to be pragmatic and give shooting a fair hearing.”
And the pro-shooting, pro-hunting Countryside Alliance also expressed concern about her appointment. Chief Executive Tim Bonner said: “We look forward to hearing how Ms McCarthy, who is patron of the Vegan Society which believes ‘animal farming is no longer sustainable and severely damaging to the environment’ and is ‘against all shooting sports’ intends to re-engage the Labour party with the rural community.”
In addition to her stance on livestock farming and country sports Ms McCarthy is a Patron of FoodCycle and her website says she is working to ensure that the pressing issues of food poverty and food waste are on the political agenda, having introduced a Food Waste Bill in 2012.
Earlier Jeremy Corbyn said he wanted to re-build Labour in the rural communities and re-engage with rural voters.
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