Cornwall Council has passed a ‘landmark’ motion to support the Duchy’s farmers by committing to pro-actively sourcing produce – particularly meat and dairy but also plant-based products – at council events, while encouraging the people of Cornwall to shop locally and take advantage of “home-grown, affordable, nutritious food”.

The move cocked a snook at some other councils in the country which have passed motions to ban meat and dairy at their events.

The motion was submitted by Conservative councillor Nick Craker at a meeting of the full council at Lys Kernow (County Hall) in Truro on Tuesday (May 23). It was passed almost unanimously and recognised the “huge contribution made by local farmers to the Cornish economy and its rural communities”.

Quoting Clarkson’s Farm star Kaleb Cooper, Cllr Craker introduced the motion by saying: “You need a doctor once a year maybe and a fireman once in a lifetime, if you’re unlucky. But you need a farmer three times a day.”

He added that “33,000 people are employed in the agri-food sector in Cornwall. As a percentage that’s double the national rate for England. In terms of output the sector in Cornwall accounts for nearly 17% of GVA, that’s four times the national average for England. Livestock production, especially dairy, is the largest proportion of the production sector, but we also have a large and growing commercial horticulture sector as well.”

The councillor said: “A small minority of councils around the country, like Oxfordshire, have voted to abolish meat and dairy [at council events]. I can’t begin to imagine the damage that would do to Cornwall. Supporting all our farmers and growers is essential for our economy here in Cornwall.

“Food production and environmental promotion are not an either or. We need both in equal measure. We also need to consider paying more for food that’s sustainable – it’s no good stopping production here only to import cheaply from South America and cut down the rainforest to meet consumer choice.

“We can do small things like ensuring we source seasonal meat, dairy and plant-based produce for council events and services. Let’s always practice what we preach. Let’s ensure our residents know how to source local dairy, how to cook good local meat. I ask members to back Cornwall’s farmers and food producers today. It’s good for the economy, it’s essential for the environment and it’s critical to keep putting food on all of our tables – meat, dairy and plant-based.”

One of the motion’s targets is that “Cornwall Council commits to developing stronger partnerships with our arable, livestock, and dairy farmers in order to enhance our magnificent countryside. The council will strive to support farmers, by being sympathetic to diversification opportunities and promotion of local produce”.

Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Martin pointed out that the big decisions affecting Cornwall’s farmers lie in the hands of central Government, not Cornwall Council, so he called on Cllr Linda Taylor, leader of the council, to work with Cornwall’s six Conservative MPs, including former DEFRA Secretary George Eustice, to lobby Government for major policy changes. These included basing the number of future seasonal workforce visas on the actual needs of Cornwall’s farmers rather than any arbitrary cap and to reduce export barriers faced by Cornish producers.

Fellow Lib Dem councillors Dominic Fairman and Adrian Parsons, who are both farmers, also took part in the debate.

Cllr Parsons said: “I hope for the young farmers entering the industry there will be a future, I’m sure for the most dynamic, entrepreneurial and hard working there will be, but it won’t be easy and there will be quite literally blood sweat and tears, along the way but it it is for these reason why I’m happy put my name to support motion, as at a time when confidence is low it’s good to see Cornwall Council doing the right thing.

“This will give a lift to our local farmers and I hope other local authorities and the Government will follow suit by sourcing local if they are serious about creating a vibrant rural British economy and sustainable environment for all to work in live and enjoy.”

While supportive of the motion, Cllr Fairman was critical of its ‘blind spot’. He said: “Whilst the motion goes to great lengths to emphasis how important meat and dairy are to a balanced diet – we are simply not getting that balance right, to the detriment of our health, and more importantly to this council, an ever-increasing knock-on burden to Social Care.

“In fact, the motion omits mentioning horticulture at all – despite the importance of potatoes and brassicas to the Cornish economy. This blind spot is reflected by the Government’s own position as they have just scrapped their commitment to produce a ‘world-leading’ horticulture strategy.

“And now to the elephant in the room. We also need a 30% reduction in meat consumption to meet our own climate and nature recovery targets that are now enshrined in UK law. Yes, we need to support our farmers. But we also need to be honest about the direction of travel and support the transition toward nature-friendly farming – producing free range and pasture-fed meat while meeting the increasing market-driven demand for plant-based foods.

“The public are becoming increasingly aware of the climate and health implications of our diet, consumption of meat is falling, and we should be embracing this shift instead of resisting it.

“Our current food system is broken. It erodes public health, damages the environment and puts our farmers under financial strain. Farmers could and should be a major part of the solution to all of these problems – but they will require strong political leadership and our wholehearted support.”

The Countryside Alliance said the result in Cornwall was a ‘victory for common sense’ and will now urge other rural councils to follow suit.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said: “This is a big victory for our farmers, the countryside and common sense. Buying and sourcing local, seasonal produce to cut down on mileage is the way forward, not imposing draconian and divisive bans on meat and dairy. This vote represents the start of a much-needed fightback against those who, through their anti-livestock farming agendas, risk turning our countryside into a moribund wasteland.”