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Students push for fully vegan menus from University of Cambridge catering services

Students have voted to push for a completely vegan menu across the University of Cambridge’s catering services in response to the climate and biodiversity crises.

Cambridge Students’ Union voted for the Plant-Based Universities group to “initiate talks” with University Catering Services (UCS) about removing all animal products to create a “sustainable and 100 per cent plant-based” menu.

Students are calling for vegan menus from the University Catering Services
Students are calling for vegan menus from the University Catering Services

The move was backed by 72 per cent of non-abstaining student representatives who voted, but the decision on whether to act on it rests with the university.

The vote also does not directly apply to the university’s 31 colleges, although the campaigners argued it provided “an extremely strong mandate for colleges to begin transitioning to 100 per cent plant-based menus”.

The Plant Based Universities campaign is supported by Animal Rebellion, an offshoot of the activist group Extinction Rebellion.

William Smith, 24, from the Cambridge branch of the Plant-Based Universities Campaign, said: “It’s great that Cambridge Students’ Union has passed our motion to work with the university to implement a just and sustainable plant-based catering system.

“By removing animal products from its menus, the university could significantly reduce its environmental impact and showcase to the world its commitment to sustainability.

“The University Catering Services has already made important strides, for example in 2016, when it removed beef and lamb from all its menus. We look forward to working with them on the next necessary steps.”

The motion pointed out that a fully plant-based global food system could reduce land use for agriculture by 75 per cent. Campaigners say this land could then be rewilded to draw down as much carbon dioxide as is currently emitted through fossil fuels each year.

But the vote was criticised by the Countryside Alliance, a political campaign group that fights for farmers and rural communities and promotes fieldsports including hunting, shooting and fishing.

Spokesperson Mo Metcalf-Fisher said: “Obviously this is an attack on freedom of choice and sadly shows a misunderstanding about the reality of livestock farming in the UK. It’s often the case that radical motions passed by students’ unions are made up of a small minority of the wider student body, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast bulk of students felt alienated by this decision.

He added: “Cambridge Student Union would be much better off sourcing sustainable local meat and dairy produce from local farmers instead, rather than adopt a policy which could likely see highly processed plant-based alternatives transported in from across the globe. Cambridge University should demonstrate their support for sustainable UK farmers by ensuring they continue to supply meat and dairy, irrespective of what its students’ union decide to do”.

A University of Cambridge spokesperson said: “The University of Cambridge removed ruminant meat from the menu in all University Catering Service cafes in 2016 and has a sustainable food policy which also seeks to actively promote plant-based options, remove unsustainable fish from the menu and reduce food waste. We always welcome suggestions from students and staff.”

Any policy change would be subject to consultation, the spokesperson added.

Students at The University of Stirling voted for their students’ union to transition to 100 per cent plant-based catering by 2025.

And Oxford’s students’ union voted to ban beef and lamb in 2020, although some of the university’s cafes still appear to serve red meat.

The Plant-Based Universities campaign now has offshoots at more than 40 institutions.

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