• What Can We Expect from New Environment Secretary Kerry McCarthy?

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What Can We Expect from New Environment Secretary Kerry McCarthy?

Oct 15 2015

New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn caused yet more ripples of discontent in the media last month when he made the surprise appointment of pronounced vegan Kerry McCarthy as his environment spokeswoman. Due to her previous statements of concern about the standards of welfare in farming and agricultural, many quarters of the industry have greeted her appointment with mistrust.

But what can we really expect from the new shadow environment secretary? Will she maintain as hard a line as she has in the past with respect to meat-eaters and, crucially, British farmers? Or will she soften her approach in order to play a more diplomatic political game?

“Treat Meat-Eaters like Smokers”

Much has been made of comments McCarthy made to Vivalife, a vegan magazine, whilst still a backbencher regarding meat-eaters. In the controversial speech, McCarthy professed: “I really believe that meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco with public campaigns to stop people eating it.”

Butchers, farmers and others associated with the meat-eating industry have been up in arms at her comments, viewing them as a direct attack on their livelihood and way of life. However, it’s important to note that the comments were made prior to McCarthy’s appointment and to a vegan magazine – not to the mainstream media, as some quarters are representing.

Indeed, McCarthy herself has been quick to clarify her position and state her full support for the British farming industry.

“Let me make this clear, I support British farming and want it to be economically viable, environmentally sustainable and to have the very best animal welfare standards,” she told the media. “I would much rather see people buy British lamb and British apples than imports from half way around the world. We need better food labelling so we know where our food is from and what is in it...we can all get behind that whatever we eat.”

What to Expect

Therefore, it’s unlikely McCarthy will pursue a line of aggressive “militant veganism”, as her detractors are fearing. Instead, she will more than likely address less controversial issues, such as the food labelling mentioned above and reducing our dependency on synthetic fertilisers and other chemicals in agriculture. The widespread use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids have already significantly damaged the bee population in Britain and continue to pollute our soil.

Furthermore, she has already signalled her attention to fight any attempt by the Conservative government to repeal the ban on fox hunting, and has spoken out against calls from farmers to institute badger culls. Though sympathetic to the farmers’ cause, McCarthy has declared herself an opponent of the culls and has called them “inhumane and unscientific”.

Whichever policy McCarthy ends up pursuing, it’s clear that Corbyn is assembling a new kind of Labour Party under his guardianship. Whether or not it will be electable enough to challenge the Tories remains to be seen.

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