It has only been three years since Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) attempted to ban beef products in all their outlets, a vote which thankfully failed, with 58% voting no to this proposal. Now they have turned their attention to promoting a plant-based diet with a motion put forward to ban meat and dairy from EUSA-run shops and cafes by 2027. This motion, like the one in 2020, not only failed to get enough votes but crashed with a resounding 81% of students rejecting the ban.
When we were made aware of this campaign, the Scottish Countryside Alliance contacted a number of student bodies on campus and asked them to support local farmers, following an alarming rise in university student association members pushing through similar motions. We understand that during the current plant-based debate, there were discussions about how the ban could impact different cultures on campus, particularly for the students where a meat-based diet is both important and necessary. Questions were also raised as to why Scottish Rural University College (SRUC) students were not allowed to attend this meeting, even though they attend some lectures at a number of Edinburgh University campuses, with the majority of them regularly using the on-site catering facilities.
The Edinburgh Farm Animal Veterinary Society (EFAVS) and the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs took to social media to voice their concerns over this proposal. In an open letter to the EUSA, the EFAVS stated “UK farming is one of the most sustainable agricultural sectors in the world and the land farmed is not suitable for crop/plant growth.
“Freedom of choice in what we eat should be made available to every member of the university body whether they be vegan, vegetarian or meat-eating”.
This letter goes on to further condemn the EUSA, stating that the agricultural students had been excluded from meetings during the 2020 debate, citing that the agricultural students were not members of the student union, did not matriculate at Edinburgh University and were therefore not eligible to vote. Essentially the voice of the future of farming were not allowed to propose counter arguments on this motion, which could have invited a balanced discussion on relevant topics such as animal welfare.
Talking about these proposals put forward by EUSA, Jake Swindells, Director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance said: “Knowing where your food comes from and how it is produced is as important as whether it is animal or vegetable.
"Imposing a ban on meat and dairy would be an unnecessary and divisive attack on our freedom of choice and counterproductive to any debate.”
"Edinburgh University should instead opt for sourcing local produce, cutting the distance travelled from supplier to plate whilst not discriminating based on dietary preference”.
Stirling University Student's Union were the first to impose a plant-based diet on their 17,000 strong student population, voting for food outlets to go 100% vegan by 2025. This was successfully pushed through by approximately 100 students attending the union's November general meeting.
Even the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) have been in the crosshairs of the animal rights group PETA, who wrote a letter to the Committee, calling for an end to the “outdated cow parades, cruel sheep shearing and food that has been cut or expelled from an animal’s body”, even going so far as to suggest renaming this prestigious show the ‘Royal Highland Grow’. Thankfully this ludicrous idea was most thoroughly rejected by the show’s chief executive Alan Laidlaw, stating that “This reflects a lack of understanding of what is required for good animal health and wellbeing, and the importance of Scottish agriculture.”
Common sense prevailed again at the EUSA meeting on 29th March, Mo Metcalf-Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said: “This is the second time Edinburgh students have overwhelmingly voted against banning meat and dairy, showing support for UK livestock farming which is the among the most sustainable in the world".
This sustained attack on our farmers livelihoods and our freedom of choice needs to stop. Does the 2% of the UK population get to dictate what the rest of us eat? Make no mistake, both the EUSA representatives responsible for this motion, and the 100 students who voted on behalf of the 17,000 Stirling students to put an end to meat at the university sites, fall into a category of dictatorship. A plant-based diet may work for some people, but the UK as a whole have a hugely thriving and successful agricultural industry that we should be proud of and proud to support. We need to maintain our agricultural heritage and celebrate this by buying locally produced food and being appreciative towards our farmers for the many hours of work they do each week to ensure we have good quality, sustainable, delicious food on our table every day. Start by visiting the Royal Highland Show and speaking to them in person, we will certainly be there is support!
This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of Farming Scotland Magazine.