Opinion | Beef bans and dairy taxes are not conducive to British democracy


By Oliver Briscoe, Third Year Law

Flushed cheeks, a quivering inner thigh, adrenaline at the fingertips; a stiff snifter usually sets me steady, a second tips me slightly into nonsense. So I sat–standing I was told, is too adversarial–warm-blooded and loose-lipped at the recent VegSoc panel.

I am rarely anyone’s first choice but Robert (Bristol University Conservative Association President) was otherwise engaged and Cordelia (VegSoc President), looking for a token Tory, had been palmed me. Wanted or not, I do not like to disappoint and placed myself rather loudly in a suit and tie, between the other panellists representing the Cabot Institute, the Food4Thought campaign and the Bristol University Sustainability Trust. Facing an audience of wet to soaking on the spectrum of eco-veg-sustainability, interspersed with my own sympathetic few. I would say the best and brightest but this is Bristol and I was present. Conversation ranged, compromise was found and even agreement but I write now; looking back at Sustainability month and the defeat of Cordelia’s dairy ban.

I will start here as I did then; I am proud of our record. The United Kingdom, only representing 1% of world CO2 emissions, has seen a 38% decrease of those emissions since 1973. Our population continues to grow but the energy consumption per individual peaked in 2001. Last year was the first year that renewable sources produced more energy than fossil fuels. I am proud of our record as Conservatives but we are not complacent. We must do so much better. As the sixth biggest economy we have set the most ambitious target not just domestically with our 2050 pledge but abroad by committing £11.6 billion overseas.

I am proud of our record as Conservatives but we are not complacent

So why did we oppose the ban on beef? In the face of show-trial politics where some chose hypocritical mortification applauding Greta, as she speaks known truths. Chose to declare climate emergencies. The Conservative party commits to pragmatic and practical responses. As I told the panel; the work that they do, the tireless campaign Miss Thunberg has unwillingly taken up, is something we support, we wholeheartedly back.

However, to continue do something about sustainability, the case must be brought to each and every person. Not as some pedestrian monoculture enforced from above. You cannot bludgeon and bully because the Man in the Richmond Building knows best. This is exactly why the beef ban was defeated and the Cordelia’s too. If people wanted vegan, they would eat vegan. The direct and daily democracy of choice is surely greater and more representative than a non-quorate vote.

Imposing bans will not work in the UK | VegSoc / Cordelia Hughes

Trust in the individual to choose. Do not blame the institution, blame the individual.

In regimes such as the one in China, bans might make more of a difference. China, the world’s biggest polluter (excluding its overseas involvement which essentially involves pouring concrete on every virgin land corrupted by poverty and socialism) also felicitously happens to have the political framework to enact more change, more quickly. It could do so without undermining its democratic values. Yet one never sees a big XR gathering outside the Chinese embassy or the Indian one, for that matter (incidentally, a country with some of the highest emissions despite a culturally imposed beef ban and prevalent veganism).

In Britain bans do little for their pound of democratic flesh. If you ban beef in halls, you should ban milk, ban leather and then free-speech, dissent and creativity. If you’re going to ban things in the name of Malthusian sustainability, you might as well ban sex. A good steak is just as good and you don’t have to go to the ASS for it…I tease.

What about the claim of climate emergency? The claim that we must ride roughshod over the individual in a panicked charge. “No one said the revolution would be a gala dinner”. Even if it were palatable, it is not true. To remove choice, such a bothersome priest, will not effectively help slow global warming. Forgetting the fact that diet has one of the lesser impacts compared to the emissions of cruise ships, say or that naughty Bristolian nasal habit. Such a ban would also be unsustainable. Unsustainable for the soul of our country, unsustainable for the way we interact as a society.

A tyranny of the loud minority; only 1% of consumers identify as vegans and 6% of vegetarians/pescatarian. 91% of people in this country eat red meat with a 0.2% reduction in 2018 coming mostly from a transition to eating white meat. From people making a conscious choice.

Choice is the solution, not just the inconvenient moral impediment. Choice will bring about competition, innovation, improvement. It will develop and incentivise more sustainable practises.

For example, investment in the North East’s offshore turbine industry has made it one of the most advanced and competitively developed. As renewables become cheaper than fossil and more widely available, they will become the natural choice of the consumer. This process cannot be forced with alarmist immediacy; compare our phase out of fossil fuel cars by 2035 to Macron’s imposed carbon tax, which threw France into ongoing turmoil. These might just be the vagaries of the markets and the people but successfully recovering the economy is the greatest contribution to the fight against climate change. Where recession, economic stagnation and poverty only relegate environmental concerns, a stable growth incentivises it; caring about the planet is a Western luxury. If we are to take global action, we cannot force other countries to slow their growth. We must create ways in which to make that growth green.

With the university’s commitment to sustainability, they might subsidise vegan food in halls, make the options more appetising. Have you seen those sullen, sulking vegetables in their own sweat and the regurgitated vegetarian sausages like a Frankenstein’s monster in bits. Perhaps they might take better details of dietary choices to cater meat without waste or excess. Or they might reach out to local farmers, local butchers, local abattoirs. The last which have declined by a third since 2007. They could preference a local agricultural economy.

Instead of flying quinoa from Peru, overworking the fields there; ruining other countries in our first world pursuit to green-wash our dirty habits. I would rather a Somerset steak than an out of season Chilean avocado. Whatever the policy, the burden is yours. Taxes, bans are never about sustainability, they are a cover to enforce ideological veganism. Sustainability should be about solutions self-centred, agenda-driven protest.

I would rather a Somerset steak than an out of season Chilean avocado

We are committed to the climate. The challenge is one we must face and will face together. Together, however, in agreement; a threat is no solution. Climate prophesying, so reliably incorrect, is continually astounded and overcome by human progress. The very fact that we have a sustainability month, something that did not really happen only three years ago when I arrived. The fact that we have panellists from various sciences and campaigns, engaging, discussing, agreeing. Therein lies our collective solution, our progress.

I conclude, urging as I did then and have done before; abandon radical reaction for measured action and you may find people willing to listen.

| Read Cordelia's side of the debate here

Featured Image: VegSoc / Cordelia Hughes

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