UK university to ban beef products

A London university has said it will ban all beef products in a bid to lower its carbon emissions.

But farming organisations warn against the “overly simplistic” approach, saying it ignores important differences between overseas and British farming methods.

The change is planned to come into force at Goldsmiths, University of London campus, next month as part of an ambitious list of goals by the college’s new warden, fashion lecturer Prof. Frances Corner.

They include:

  • A ban on all beef products from sale from campus food outlets by the start of the 2019 academic year;
  • A 10p levy on bottled water and single-use plastic cups to discourage use, with the proceeds directed into a green student initiative fund;
  • Installing more solar panels across Goldsmiths’ campus in New Cross;
  • Switching to a 100% clean energy supplier as soon as practicable;
  • Continuing investment in Goldsmiths’ allotment area and identifying other areas where planting could help absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere;
  • Reviewing how all Goldsmiths students can access curriculum options which investigate the subject of climate change and the role of individuals and organisations in reducing carbon emissions.

A spokesman for the university said the changes were part of a drive to meet its net-zero carbon emissions target over the next six years.

The latest available figures show Goldsmiths emits around 3.7 million kg of carbon emissions each year – a figure which has reduced almost 10% over three years. Over the same period, it has consistently generated around 107,000 kWh of renewable energy each year.

Prof. Frances Corner said: “Though I have only just arrived at Goldsmiths, it is immediately obvious that our staff and students care passionately about the future of our environment and that they are determined to help deliver the step change we need to cut our carbon footprint drastically and as quickly as possible.

“Declaring a climate emergency cannot be empty words. I truly believe we face a defining moment in global history and Goldsmiths now stands shoulder to shoulder with other organisations willing to call the alarm and take urgent action to cut carbon use.”

But UK farming organisations warn the university may be taking the wrong approach.

What UK farm orgs say

National Farmers’ Union vice president Stuart Roberts said: “Tackling climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time but singling out one food product is clearly an overly simplistic approach.

“The main issue with this is the lack of understanding or recognition between British beef and beef produced elsewhere.

Our standards of beef production in the UK are among the most efficient in the world, with British livestock grazing in extensive, grass-based systems – meaning a greenhouse gas footprint 2.5 times smaller than the global average.

“Anyone wanting to play their part in helping our planet amid the current climate change challenge we’re all facing should buy British, locally produced beef reared to some of the highest and environmentally sustainable standards in the world.

“The NFU has for years been encouraging public bodies such as schools and universities to back British farming and source their produce locally wherever possible. This makes more sense and keeps the choice to eat tasty, sustainably-produced meat firmly on the menu.”

A spokesman from Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) added: “It is disappointing that the educational establishment has decided to remove all beef products from sale for environmental reasons.

What the university has failed to recognise in making this decision is that the red meat industry positively supports our country’s distinctive environment.

“Wales, in particular, has a strong message on the sustainability of its livestock industry. 80% of Wales’s agricultural land is unsuitable for growing arable crops, therefore turning pasture into protein is the most effective use of the land.

“Agriculture the ‘Welsh Way’ has a huge positive contribution to make in mitigating emissions and meeting global food needs. It is largely non-intensive and depends mainly on natural rainfall and grass to rear livestock.

Many Welsh farmers do a great deal in terms of carbon capture, promoting biodiversity and flood prevention.

“This issue was highlighted only last week with the launch of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva which highlighted how sustainable livestock production, similar to the low-intensity systems found in Wales, can be part of the solution to climate change.”