Last week some Scottish GPs sent an open letter to Caroline Lamb, chief executive of NHS Scotland, calling for meat to be banned from hospital menus in a bid to improve patient health. The letter, signed by 4 doctors and an NHS consultant claimed that serving red and processed meat to hospital patients was like “distributing cigarettes in the pulmonary-care unit.” Hysterical claims like this are becoming increasingly fashionable as in-vogue veganism continues to grow. It is nevertheless astonishing that qualified medical practitioners can add their names to such an absurd petition. The letter called on NHS Scotland to replace meat, eggs and dairy products in hospitals with “vibrant vegan foods”, to protect the health of Scottish people and the planet.

The claims in the letter are inaccurate and misleading on almost every level. Even vegan doctors must know that getting patients to eat at all is often a challenge. Confronting them with only vegan options would make matters worse. A balanced diet, which provides a patient with choice, must surely be best. Also, claiming that plant-based food is healthier is disingenuous. For millennia, the natural human diet has always contained both animal and plant foods. Meat and dairy products both contain vitamin B12, an essential nutrient not naturally present in foods of plant origin. Red meat is also an excellent source of iron, zinc, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. So, eating a little meat or dairy along with your vegetables boosts the number of vitamins in a healthy meal. 

It is also grossly inaccurate to claim that livestock farming is bad for the planet. Militant vegans hurl abuse at livestock farmers, claiming that agriculture is one of the main contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions. They point the finger at ruminants as major producers of methane, a naturally occurring by-product of the digestive tract. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. However, a team of scientists at Oxford University, conducting research in 2019 for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), categorically proved that methane from ruminants in the UK is not causing global warming. Indeed, they found that ruminants are providing a viable pathway to net zero emissions from UK farming by 2030. Aerobic soils are net sinks for methane and so long as grass is actively growing, carbon is being removed from the atmosphere and sequestered into the ground. Scottish sheep and cattle are mainly reared on grass-based diets and are grazing fields that store a significant amount of carbon, benefitting the environment.

It is also crudely unfair to attack our farmers in this way. Banning meat from hospital menus would have a huge impact on farm incomes, already stretched to breaking point with the spiralling cost-of-living crisis, rocketing fuel and fertiliser costs and rising inflation. Scotland’s farmers are committed to providing food of superior quality, produced to the highest standards in Europe, requiring hours of backbreaking work, early mornings, late nights and extreme dedication. Their passion for the health, safety and welfare of their animals is unsurpassed. Vegan doctors who do not understand this should keep their intemperate views to themselves.