AFTER 26 years as a vegetarian, Lee Williscroft-Ferris turned vegan on New Year’s Day last year.

There were just too many reasons stacking up not to take that final, logical step, he said.

“You put it off because there are challenges, but the never ending cycle of artificial insemination of cows, the separation of mothers from their calves and the treatment of male calves that generally become veal pretty quickly ...”

And that’s just for starters.

While ethical concerns about the treatment of animals were key to his decision, as a keen environmentalist too – he stood as Hexham’s Green Party candidate in the last election – the game-changer for him was a United Nations report.

“The UN has concluded that animal agriculture is more responsible for CO2 emissions than all forms of transport combined,” he said. “The gas cows produce is hugely more damaging, by far!

“I was researching all the issues and on the cusp of turning vegan and that was the final straw.

“I mean, if you care about the environment and doing everything from recycling to carbon offset for the car you drive, but you don’t do the single biggest thing that could be effective, well, that convinced me.”

There were things that disgusted him too, not least the pus content that is legally allowed in milk.

Mastitis (inflammation of the udder) is a major problem in dairy farming, due in no small part to the perpetual cycle of pregnancy and birth heifers are kept in so they will continue to lactate – the very basis of the dairy industry.

The infection results in pus-laden dead cells, known as somatic cells, being excreted into the milk.

Cow’s milk for human consumption can legally contain up to 400 million pus cells per litre. Or as one vegan website puts it: one teaspoonful of milk can contain two million pus cells.

Lee adds that the heightened level of pregnancy and lactation forced on dairy cattle must surely mean an increased level of hormones in the milk as well.

There are things that don’t make sense to him either. One of them is the sheer, excessive quantity of water used in farming.

“Do you know, the amount of water used to produce one beefburger is more than if you ran a shower non-stop for a month? That’s in a UN report too.

“It takes an obscene amount of water to keep and raise a cow, whether that’s dairy or beef. That has an impact here, but in third world countries it’s a big problem.

“We are producing tonnes of grain, which take an awful lot of water to grow, to feed cows. Why don’t we use that to feed people instead of producing so much meat?”

And there were things that he found unconscionable. Besides the over-breeding and over-production forced on dairy cattle and the beef cattle who often didn’t see the light of day during the winter months, there were the double-standards so apparent in this animal-loving nation.

“I find it troubling that people make such a distinction between a dog and a cow,” he said.

“You wouldn’t dream of doing some of the things done to dairy cattle to your pet. You wouldn’t artificially inseminate them, milk them and take away their babies.”

Having just had a comprehensive health check, he also moved to debunk the myth that vegans ‘had to be’ deficient in essential nutrients. “Blood tests revealed I lack nothing – I’m very healthy. The only thing that has dropped is my cholesterol level.

“And as you can see,” he laughed, patting his stomach, “I don’t struggle to find enough to eat.”

He describes himself as “inwardly militant”, passionate about what he believes in, and he’s certainly not afraid to publish his thoughts on social media.

He does add the caveat that he regrets sharing the video of a calf being removed from its mother recently – it was only afterwards the true story behind that particular footage came out.

And he decries the lengths some ‘extreme vegans’ have gone to in attacking farmers, physically and verbally. “That’s so unhelpful and unacceptable,” he said. “I don’t want to see farms closed down or people made unemployed.”

He’d gone on a 5,000-strong national animal rights march in London last year in which people were expressing their views peacefully, and that’s the way it should be.

But he does think farmers should meet vegans half way.

“Vegans are keen to work with farmers to find some kind of middle ground,” he said.

“In an ideal world, they would convert to plant based farming.

“If they were able to grow soya, which is very profitable at the moment, they would be meeting a real demand, because the number of vegans has grown by 400 per cent in recent times.

“It doesn’t have to be a battle between vegans and farmers. To start with, I think we’d all have to agree that the current situation isn’t sustainable.”