Glasgow University must follow the lead of other UK universities and end its hypocrisy
After a number of UK universities including Goldsmiths, Cambridge and Edinburgh have restricted beef sales it’s time for the University of Glasgow to follow suit. Agriculture contributes to 10% of the UK’s greenhouse emissions with beef representing the vast majority of these fatal fumes. We cannot expect others to change if we cannot make the smallest personal sacrifices in the name of our species and our morality.
There are three main objections to the sale of beef: our health, the environment’s health, and morality. In terms of health, the debate around the risks associated with red meat is conclusive, despite what statistics tabloid papers choose to publish. The World Health Organisation labels red meat as a class 2A carcinogen (probably causes cancer) and processed red meat like sausages and bacon as a class 1 carcinogen (definitely causes cancer). To what degree it increases cancer risk, what quantities are safe, and what benefits might be involved in eating red meat are also important. However, even if red meat is detrimental to human health, that’s not the debate I want to have. It would be especially strange if I did, considering my objection to a total ban on another class 1 carcinogen, tobacco. The principle difference is that of harm: if students wish to consume products that harm their own health (red meat, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs) that’s their business. It’s beef’s harm to others that demand our objection.
The harm is not just its requirement of animal suffering; this would predicate the banning of all meat and dairy products from campus. I personally decry the abuses that such industries necessitate but the total ban of these products needs to be debated another day; if we demand everything there is every chance we get nothing.
The harm in question is that of environmental damage. While all red/processed meat harms our health and all animal products necessitate suffering, beef, in its quantity demanded and methane produced, is the worst offender in the agricultural climate crisis.
If your immediate reaction to banning beef is outrage, I would ask you to consider why: is it your personal love of eating it? This isn’t really an argument and if we used personal preference instead of reason and compassion to defend certain practices, the world we’d live in would be unrecognisable. Is it an infringement on your liberty? I’d again point to the harm principle in that your consumption of beef harms not only the animal against its will but everyone who doesn’t consent to having their planet damaged by your consumption choices. It’s not a personal choice if it affects others. If it is a rational argument as to an inconsistency/ineffectiveness in banning beef, that is where a debate needs to be had.
Reasoned objections were of course raised to campus-bans recently. One such objection was raised by the Scottish Rural College in Edinburgh that the beef consumed in Scotland is often raised in Scotland, and is, therefore, more environmentally friendly than some non-meat products like avocados and other fruits imported from South America. While this is technically true, it lumps together two separate pollution problems: transport emissions and production emissions. There are many products with higher Co2 produced from transport than methane produced from local products; the false conception here is that those are our only two options. We don’t have to choose between high-emission beef locally and high-emission imported food. Along with beef, we need to ban all high-Co2 products to keep this policy scientific not ideological. Locally grown low-methane products must be our food source; just because cows are raised locally doesn’t make them environmentally friendly, just as foods with low-methane production flown in from other continents aren’t either. The livelihoods of Scottish farmers are vital, but not more so, if I have to say, than the fate of our planet and the continuation of the human race. Every effort must be made to fund a transition away from cattle raising for our farmers, but beef needs to go.
A campus-wide ban would not ban the act of bringing beef products onto campus, it would only ban the sale by the university. It seems strange that a university in a supposed state of emergency continues to profit and endorse one of the main contributors to the said emergency. This could be out of financial gain, fear of unpopular change, or both, either way, the faculty won’t take measures this strong, so we the students must instead. It’s not just the university with food halls that need to take a stand, the unions must as well. Therefore, I also put it to Nam Ranpuria and Ruaraidh Campbell, newly elected presidents of the unions, to institute substantial change in their emissions by banning beef products.
We cannot continue fighting greenhouse gas emissions only when it doesn’t inconvenience us. We cannot oppose real measures because of personal preferences and characterisations of the opposition. We cannot fight the climate crisis without ending the mass-production of beef.