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Column 345The central question is: if vegetarianism is so good, how come everyone does not embrace it today? That question ignores the fact that 2,000 people a week are becoming vegetarians, with the fastest growth among teenagers--but even that increase is simply not enough. Part of the reason why it is not greater lies in the years of accumulated prejudice against vegetarianism--for example, the image of the veggie as a spotty nerd sporting a woolly hat, an anorak and socks worn under open-toed sandals-- [Interruption.] How unlike myself, Madam Speaker.
Such a caricature is fast fading, but vegetarianism is still seen by those in authority as a mild form of eccentricity, to be pitied and patronised. The "real men eat meat" syndrome-- [Interruption.] --characterised by those on the Government Benches, is still with us. That is all part of the myth carefully fostered by the meat industry--a powerful industry heavily backed by Government, with both resources and propaganda.
The Meat and Livestock Commission has a staff of about 600 and an annual budget of about £43 million, some £4 million of which comes direct from the Government. Compare that with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Information Bureau, run as one of the accounts of a public relations consultancy, which has a budget of about £130,000 and four staff paid by the PR firm.
In other words, in terms of ability to inform, to advertise and to influence, there is no contest. One has only to think of the £10 million campaign by the MLC, "Recipe for Love", or the £14 million spent on the "Meat to Live" campaign, to realise that the dice are loaded. Massive subsidies are handed out by the taxpayer to the meat-producing industry.
We need to redress this terrible imbalance, and the purpose of my Bill is to set up a fruit and vegetable commission funded by the industry and by Government, with the Government using some of the massive savings gained by the health service when a growing proportion of the population switches to vegetarianism.
A vital part of the work of that new commission would be public education. People in this country are poisoning themselves through ignorance, and the Government in part connive at that scandalous and eminently avoidable situation. My Bill would seek to alleviate that ignorance, and to promote a healthier and a happier nation. 3.53 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham): As a partial vegetarian for many more years than the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I must tell him that we do not need an extra publicly created body. Incidentally, I do not regard any of the characteristics that the hon. Gentleman attributed to vegetarians as applicable to me. He also said that listeria came from animals, whereas I thought that in general it came from cheese.
If the hon. Gentleman wants a public body to promote fruit and vegetables, why does he not give that as an extra responsibility to the Covent Garden market authority, which already exists? He claimed that one in three Americans develops cancer each year--but that would mean 80 million people a year, and I do not believe that figure.
If we imagine that, in just one part of the United Kingdom--Northern Ireland, in which there are 35,000 farmers, one third of them full-time-- all farmers had to turn all their fields to set-aside, we should discover what the land could and would look like without the farmers.
As a final point, I would say to those who like the look of sheep and cows in the fields that one cannot have livestock without dead stock. I recommend that people make up their own minds about what they eat and supply, and the House ought to send the hon. Gentleman off to Covent Garden today.
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No.19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business): --
The House divided: Ayes 95, Noes 66.
Division No. 97] [3.54 pm
Column 346Adams, Mrs Irene
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D N
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Eagle, Ms Angela
Foster, Don (Bath)
Godman, Dr Norman A
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Column 346Khabra, Piara S
Liddell, Mrs Helen
Lynne, Ms Liz
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Spink, Dr Robert
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Tellers for the Ayes: Jean Corston and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn. NOES