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York Students’ Union Officers Reject 100% Plant-Based Catering Despite Record Student Support

  • Students’ Union officers at the University of York yesterday rejected a motion calling for all union-led catering to transition to 100% plant-based, while the motion remains under review.

  • While they expressed substantial support for an increased range and number of plant-based options, union officers voted 6-3 against the motion with two abstentions.

  • This rejection happened despite York students voting in March 2023 for an official students’ union suggestion in favour of 100% plant-based campus catering by a record-breaking margin of 142 votes [1].

  • Yesterday’s motion, proposed by organisers of the Plant-Based Universities campaign, was calling for the union to make the no-nonsense, commonsense shift to plant-based catering to limit its contribution to the climate and ecological emergencies – with supporters claiming a plant-based food system is a key solution to tackling climate breakdown.

  • York would have been the UK’s eighth students’ union to adopt such a motion, following Stirling, Cambridge, Birmingham, London Metropolitan, Queen Mary University of London, University College London, and Kent [2].

After record numbers of students voted in favour of an official union suggestion for the students’ union to begin the plant-based transition in March 2023, union officers decided to reject the motion yesterday – although it remains under review. The result was described as “extremely disappointing” and “anti-democratic” by Plant-Based Universities, who claimed that the record-breaking student support for plant-based catering earlier in the year was disregarded by students’ union officers.

Claire Sheldon, Plant-Based Universities York Coordinator said:

It is extremely disappointing to see this straightforward and sensible motion turned down by a handful of students’ union officers today. Students voted en masse in favour of campus going fully plant-based earlier this year – voting an online suggestion ‘up’ by a record-breaking margin of 142 votes – and the vital climate- and nature-based arguments for fully plant-based catering that campaigners presented have not been heeded.
I would go so far as to say this result is anti-democratic. The University of York Students’ Union must prioritise what matters in this conversation: food accessibility and inclusivity, student representation and the catastrophic nature of the climate and nature crises that we’re facing. The need for a plant-based food system has never been so urgent, and universities – as social, cultural, and political leaders – need to step up and lead the way.

Over 30 academics from the University of York joined around 850 other academics and notable figures in signing an open letter in support of the Plant-Based Universities campaign earlier this year, they were joined by figures including Dale Vince OBE, Chris Packham CBE, and both Greenpeace co-executive directors Will McCallum and Areeba Hamid [3].

Campaigners point to research from Oxford University which suggested that global farmland could be reduced by 76% if the world adopted a plant-based food system, freeing up land for rewilding and habitat restoration for endangered species. This would allow huge amounts of carbon drawdown from the atmosphere [4]. A comment earlier this year in The Lancet Planetary Health Journal called for universities to lead the way in transitioning to a plant-based food system, citing the enormous social importance of universities [5].

Plant-Based Universities, an Animal Rising campaign, is an international initiative of students who are pushing for their universities and students’ unions to adopt 100% plant-based catering [5]. The group claims that universities have an obligation to follow the scientific research that they produce, detailing the environmental impacts of animal farming and fishing. The campaign is active in over 75 institutions, with the group encouraging interested students to sign up to run local campaigns.


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