by Tim Bonner

When their arguments fail, extremists usually resort to subverting democracy. In the case of Extinction Rebellion's spin-off 'Plant-Based Universities' campaign, it means pushing a vote through just 100 Stirling University students in support of ‘100% plant-based catering’ which will prohibit 17,000 students from eating meat and dairy at Student Union outlets.

Vegan activists had clearly learned the lessons of a similar attempt to ban meat at Edinburgh University in 2020. That proposal went to a campus-wide referendum and was defeated by a clear majority of the 6,000 students who took part.

Activists at Stirling University have celebrated their ‘victory’ but the question has to be asked what they think they have won. The Forth valley, in which Stirling sits, is rich with livestock farms producing high-quality beef, lamb and milk. Why anyone thinks it is better for Stirling students to consume highly processed vegan products or imported avocados rather than locally produced meat and dairy products is not clear, but obviously, this was not an argument activists were willing to put to a wide electorate. 

The huge gap between the propaganda of vegan campaigners and the reality of the public’s attitude to vegan diets is becoming increasingly obvious, both in the determination of activists to avoid open debate and in the commercial struggles of plant-based food companies.

Iconic vegan brand Beyond Meat is a classic example of the struggles of the plant-based sector and even before stories emerged this week of mould and listeria in its US production plant, Beyond Meat was facing a sales meltdown. From being lauded as the future of food and seeing its value rocket when it went public in 2019, Beyond Meat shares have now fallen by 83% and it is not alone in the sector. In the US plant-based sales have fallen for 22 consecutive months and investors are increasingly questioning whether plant-based is really the future of food.

The fairly inescapable conclusion is that when consumers try plant-based alternatives to meat they do not particularly like them, and that the environmental arguments for moving away from meat do not stack up.

None of this is any reason that we should not all think more carefully about where we source our food from and how sustainable it is, but it does suggest that the straightforward claim that livestock farming is bad and non-meat alternatives are better is over-simplistic and, in many cases, just wrong.

I am sure that the majority of Stirling University students will ignore the illogical posturing of the 'Plant-Based Universities' campaign and continue to eat meat and dairy products. I would just encourage them to source that meat and dairy from local, sustainable, grass-fed systems which are the norm across Scotland and the UK as a whole.

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