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Student Council votes to ban beef and lamb

A motion mandating the Oxford SU executives to lobby for banning beef and lamb from University-operated canteens and events has passed with a two-thirds majority in this week’s Student Council. The motion does not extend to college butteries which have their own menus and food policies.

The motion mandates the Oxford SU Vice President Charities and Communities to “request fortnightly meetings with the university authorities to advocate for the adoption of a university policy surrounding meat reduction and removal, especially in respect of beef and lamb [and to campaign for] the University to issue advice to faculties, departments, and colleges on how they may follow suit in removing beef and lamb”. In addition, the SU executive is mandated to inform staff and students within the University as to Oxford SU’s support for banning beef and lamb and raising awareness of the policy’s benefits

The motion, proposed and co-written by Vihan Jain (Worcester), Daniel Grimmer (Pembroke) and Agatha Edevane (Wycliffe Hall) refers to the EAT Lancet report for sustaining planetary health. The report argues that in the Global North, consumption of red meat should be severely limited and the intake of fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes increased. 

The motion states: “As the UK’s premier university, the nation looks to Oxford for leadership, but Oxford has shown a lack of leadership in addressing climate change. The banning of beef and lamb at university-catered events and outlets is a feasible and effective strategy to help the university meet its revised 2030 goal. A change at the university level will open the gates for similar change at the college level.” 

Citing the University’s anti-racist efforts, the motion continues: “The university has a commitment to anti-racism, and this requires urgent action to minimise greenhouse emissions.” An item for discussion proposed by Jain to the Student Council’s 3rd Week meeting states: “The worst effects of human activity related climate change are felt by Black and Brown peoples in the Global South, with women and disabled peoples being disproportionately affected. The University has a duty to minimise its participation in human activity related climate change.” 

Some members of Student Council have voiced objections to the motion. As recorded in the Council’s minutes, one student argued that the motion would “either restrict what students are eating, or allow students to buy food elsewhere, which would decrease usage of University catering services be in the best interests of the University.” To this, the proposers of the motion responded that Cambridge actually saw an increase in sales after they stopped selling beef and lamb in canteens. 

The VP Women, Alex Foley, has spoken in support of the motion: “We should focus on the motion as it is and avoid slippery slope arguments. This is about changing people’s habits, not dictating what they can and can’t do.” Foley warned against “overestimating how hard-done-by people will feel if they’re not served beef at an event.”

Others believed the motion’s demand were too harsh. A student at St. Antony’s College suggested lobbying for a reduction, rather than a cessation in red meat sales.

The motion passed in its original wording, with 31 votes for, 9 against and 13 abstentions.

Ben Farmer, Oxford SU Vice President Charities and Communities, told Cherwell: “I welcome the mandate to engage the University on this important issue. However, it is important to recognise that food-based changes may not be possible for every student or staff member at the University. Further, food-based changes are just one part of changes we’d like to see the University make to tackle the Climate Crisis.

“We look forward to updating students at future Student Councils regarding the progress of this motion.”

In Hilary Term 2020, a motion to campaign for a ban of beef from college canteens was not passed after the Student Council meeting did not meet its required quorum. Although motions that fail a quorum are rolled over to the next meeting, the motion was subsequently referred to the Council’s Steering Committee after Student Council members voted to refer the motion to an all-student consultation. Some Student Council members raised concerns over the policy’s effect on students with eating disorders.

Earlier this year, the London School of Economics Students’ Union passed a similar motion to “ban beef” from campus. Last year, Cambridge and Goldsmiths University both removed beef from all university menus.

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