Whether you voted Remain or Leave in last week's referendum, the Brexit outcome will have ramifications beyond direct financial, political and socio-economic impacts.
There are so many questions that it almost seems paralysing to contemplate what an actual Brexit could mean for animals, the environment and veganism. However, one thing is fairly clear, which is that many projects and policy suggestions that were in the pipeline will be shelved, postponed and potentially even cancelled, as the UK and EU are suddenly faced with very different priorities.
One existing policy initiative is a pan-European proposal to work towards a harmonised definition for vegan food labelling. The Vegan Society chairs a working group of various EU groups, established under Safe Food Advocacy Europe (SAFE), and is working with several MEPs to table a proposal within the European Parliament in the next few months. We hope that the vote to leave the UK will not be detrimental to this important effort, which could affect millions of vegans across Europe.
Another potential concern is the UK's potential repeal of the Human Rights Act. Veganism is regarded as a protected belief within the scope of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This principle is also enshrined in the UK Equality Act 2010, alongside protected religious and non-religious beliefs. Vegans may face difficulties in the workplace, and if the UK were to erode or erase the Human Rights Act, vulnerable or marginalised people in society could be disproportionately affected.
The UK may become a less attractive country for businesses to invest or expand in. Some of the better known European companies that manufacture vegan products may reconsider their business strategy. The Institute of Directors (IoD) conducted a survey immediately after the Referendum outcome and found that up to a quarter of businesses may implement a hiring freeze, 5% may make redundancies and one in five of IoD members are looking to base some of their operations in other European countries. Reduced innovation and investment in the UK may have a negative effect on the growth of vegan product development and manufacturing.
Food and agriculture
While the UK pays billions of pounds into the EU, it also receives over 2 billion pounds in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments for farmers. The Vegan Society is calling on the Government to provide incentives for farmers to move away from animal production and making the transition towards plant-based protein crop production. Whether a new Government is going to make agricultural reform a priority remains to be seen. Regardless of the current CAP arrangements, reform is urgently needed.
We ought to move away from an agricultural system that rewards overproduction and incentivizes the wrong kinds of crops (e.g. sugar and oil) as well as unhealthy, environmentally damaging and animal-unfriendly 'farmed' animal production. Moreover, we need to develop European, if not global, policies that encourage a sustainable and healthy food system that is fair for producers and also genuinely aims to reduce the number of animals being killed, in favour of more protein and other crop production.
WHO guidelines on healthy eating need stronger implementation plans. The benefits of plant-based diets for public (and individual) health, the environment, and animals, need to be embedded in progressive policies.
We need a global revolution
The UK could start to lead a world revolution, or it could fall even further behind Europe's standards. There are choices to be made. World problems such as the 60 billions land animals and trillion marine animals suffering and killed for food; climate change; public health and pandemic levels of lifestyle diseases should be prioritised above all else.
We need to hold those who have been elected to account, and continue to influence them to make society and the world a better place. Charities will play a very important role in the next months, and years, to come.