Comment: Banning beef begins the Road to Serfdom

What’s wrong with the LSE’s Beef Ban, and could it even lead to a slide down to totalitarianism?

The recent proposal to ban beef at LSE, then set to phase out “all animal products” passed narrowly at 243-170 students. However, on a campus of 11,000 students, 1,700 faculty, and hundreds of staff, is this decision not just more than authoritarian bullying by a small group of militant students taking advantage of a broken SU system? I’d say it is.

I will start with the environmental arguments put forward by the proponents of the ban, and their problems. Beef is indeed a high-calorific, high-consumption product that requires long-time frames to produce. Indeed, it is an expensive product to produce, and therefore sell. So why do we buy it? The answer is simple. It supplies tasty, nutritious food that is crucial for success: after all, there is a reason we evolved to be omnivores.

The BBC has been keen to point out that there are vitamins, nutrients, fatty acids, and other important chemicals that can only be found in animal products. As Taylor Wallace, CEO of the Think Healthy Group has pointed out: “I don’t think we’re educating people enough on the nutrients that are mostly derived from animal products”. Furthermore, the popular replacement for beef soy has been criticised by the World Wildlife Foundation for causing “forest clearing, atmospheric, terrestrial and water pollution…local community and indigenous rights [abuses]…soy cultivation is unacceptable as these habitats and associated biological diversity would be lost forever” [Bickel & Dros, 2003]. This is not to mention that LSE beef is Red Tractor standard, meaning it comes from heavily regulated British farmers who maintain high standards and do not rely on expensive, cross-Atlantic transportation.

Beef undoubtedly has negative impacts, but so too do its vegetarian replacements. What must be thought about is why we consume such an expensive product with this knowledge in the first place: it is tasty, it is highly nutritious, and it is our choice. In terms of ethics, this is another area of difficulty. In my arguments with a committed animal rights activist, he had the gall to tell me that agriculture was the equivalent to the Chattel Slave Trade undertaken in the Atlantic during the 1600-1800s. The cramming of human beings, men, women, children, into the dank, festering under compartments of ships with little water, food, and space to even defecate, compared to the Red Tractor qualified, free-grazing beef that the LSE consumes, is nothing more than offensive garbage. Does the agricultural industry have space to improve? Yes, of course. But is it comparable to the sufferings of the Slave Trade? No. Not in the slightest. To have such radical, completely insensitive views propagated in defence of banning beef on campus is enough to give most students pause for thought.

Now what of my arguments in favour of keeping beef, and animal products in general? I believe very firmly in freedom of choice. I believe in the intelligent people of LSE, who are not ignorant to the concerns of environmentalists about consumption of animal products, and yet make the conscientious choice to select their own meals. I do not believe that it is right for students to make such choices on behalf of other students without their explicit consent. The fantastic initiatives by Ella Roper-Marshall and Will Banks (Improving Mental Health Provision) and Jack Boyd and Sam Rowlands (Drug Policy Reform) are especially important because they give, they do not take away. The contention with this proposal is that it takes away autonomy, choice, and respect for intelligent individuals who already know the costs of what they consume. If this policy continues, we will see the removal of eggs, milk, cheese, fish, and wool from our campus, without any regard for the individuals who responsibly consume them.

LSE’s founding motto was “for the betterment of society”. But if that society does not offer us the choice to make compromises and exercise our rational, educated minds in areas that we disagree with our friends and peers on, then it cannot be bettered. Consuming beef or animal products is not a criminal act, nor is it a socially irresponsible one. The Beef ban is not just an assault on the students, faculty, and staff’s intelligence, autonomy, and standing, where the SU treats them like children who must be taught what to have and not have without regard for their own preferences. But it is also a slippery slope. Soon we will find more things banned, as the motion itself states. This is the argument in the Road to Serfdom, LSE’s own F.A.Hayek’s seminal work. It seems more of us should read it.

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