“It is incomprehensible that the rector of a university with 700 years of history should want to banish a food [that dates back] thousands of years and which is believed to have contributed to the development of the brains of our ancestors,” the group says in a statement sent to Lusa.

APROLEP cites Manuel Sobrinho Simões, one of Portugal’s leading pathologists, who in a recent interview said: “We became smart because we ate meat.”

The association explains that while meat is not the main product of the country’s dairies but that the sale of fattened male calves and of cows after the end of their productive life is a “fundamental complement” to sector revenues when the price of milk is below the cost of production.

“Our cows are raised ever more with an eye to animal welfare and 80 percent are fed by feed produced on land we cultivate,” it states. “The remaining 20 percent incorporate by-products of the food industry that human beings cannot digest and which otherwise would not be used.”

The statement adds that producers work “based on the experience of generations and supported and guided by agronomists, experts in animal husbandry and veterinarians who have studied at universities and who advise on the basis of research and best scientific evidence.”

Noting that Portugal imports almost 50 percent of the beef it consumes, APROLEP says that those who care about the ecological footprint of food can “start by choosing Portuguese meat, without fuel consumption in importation and based on the pasture or cultivation of land that would otherwise be abandoned, being ideal fuel for fires.

“We are well aware of climate change,” it goes on. “As farmers, we will be the first to suffer. We will do our part to ensure agriculture and livestock are part of the solution, but we need the grey matter of universities for us to be more efficient in precision farming.”

On Tuesday, the Confederation of Farmers of Portugal (CAP) also expressed its “profound perplexity” at the university’s decision to eliminate the beef from its canteens. In a note sent to Lusa, it states that “the climate emergency cited, which calls for all of us [to act], should not and cannot - serve as a pretext for making unsubstantiated decisions based on incomprehensible alarmism.

“This decision, taken in the setting of a university, an area of freedom and knowledge, causes still greater perplexity,” the CAP said.

The university’s rector, Amílcar Falcão, announced this week that the institution would be removing beef from its canteens from January 2020, for environmental reasons. He described the move as a first step towards making it Portugal’s “first carbon-neutral university “ by 2030.

“We are experiencing a climate emergency and we have to put brakes on this projected environmental catastrophe,” Falcão said in a speech to hundreds of students.

Beef is to be replaced “by other nutrients that will be studied, but which will also be a way of reducing the source of the greatest CO2 production that exists in the production of animal meat”.

“I think the biggest impact is to make people aware of the problem. What is more dramatic is that world leaders do not understand that the future of the planet and of our young people, our children and grandchildren is at stake, and that it is too worrying not to warn off the problem, even if they are small gestures,” he told journalists.

Every year, about 20 tonnes of beef are consumed in the 14 university canteens at the UC.

In a speech totally focused on the environment, the dean also announced that the UC will replace the plastic products in the ‘reception kit’ for new students with metal objects and the packaging and disposable utensils with wooden pallets and paper straws.

Among the various measures being taken, Amílcar Falcão also highlighted a “strict policy against food waste, promoting efficiency in the use of food”, and the placement of ecopoints and containers for the various types of waste in university residences.

The new students are also invited to join the “UC Plants” programme, which consists of planting a tree in the Botanical Garden, which will then be transferred to green spaces in the region, “reforesting areas devastated by fires or storms”.

“We have taken several measures from planting trees to placing photovoltaic panels, but we will now make other changes, particularly in terms of traffic, for example, to reduce carbon emissions,” he said.