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by Sarah Millar, Quality Meat Scotland
01 September 2023
Associate Feature: Climate change and Net Zero

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Associate Feature: Climate change and Net Zero

A few years ago, there was no such thing as a Net Zero Committee in the Scottish Parliament yet now it is arguably the most important, high-profile and influential of them all.

MSPs on the committee have been keen to know more about farming - agriculture does account for 11 per cent of the UK’s emissions – but it is really important that farming, crofting, and the work of the wider Scottish red meat supply chain is seen in its total positive impact across environment, society and economy. 

It was on an MSP farm visit this summer that a farmer in the North East put it most succinctly.
“Why is it?” he asked the MSP, “Companies can use those trees over there to offset their carbon emissions, but I can’t use those hedges, or those trees over there for the same purpose?” The MSP had no answer and, so far, nor does anyone else.

The reality is that farmers and crofters are being hamstrung because their businesses are not being assessed for their positive impact in their entirety. They are being criticised for the emissions produced by their livestock but they are not being credited for the carbon offsetting which comes from the management of the land and landscapes as part of that livestock production.

Farmers undertake carbon audits but these do not show the real, three-dimensional picture. We need to start talking about everything farmers, crofters and the wider red meat supply chain do to protect and preserve the environment and this includes things like water quality and biodiversity; as well as the wider societal benefits of pastoral livestock farming and crofting, particularly to local economic development in our remote rural communities.

This debate has to be about Total Environmental Impact, not partial emissions impact or picking and choosing which impact to assess.

Some organisations, like the UK Climate Change Committee, think the answer lies in the simple and brutal reduction of red meat and dairy herds by more than a quarter.

But all that would do is destroy the red meat sector in Scotland, which delivers over £2 billion to the Scottish economy and sustains over 50,000 jobs accross every single parish in Scotland.

Livestock farmers and the wider supply chain operate at a critical mass. Remove a huge chunk of one core part of it – in this case large numbers of cattle and sheep – and the whole supply chain will collapse, taking with it jobs and communities in every single corner of Scotland.

However, stakeholders from across the Scottish red meat supply chain have been working collaboratively to change the tone of the debate. Our aim is to demonstrate the total environmental opportunity there is in livestock to reduce emissions at the same time as improving water and air quality and increasing biodiversity. We will be giving this a practical framework when we publish the sector’s roadmap to Net Zero and Nature Restoration later this year.

The roadmap will have three key functions. One; to give businesses right across the supply chain confidence in emission reduction solutions and to show what impact these will have in the final product. Two; to identify where innovation and investment is required to further accelerate emissions reduction. And three; to show that the red meat supply chain has a credible role to play as part of a Scotland that leads the way towards a greener and cleaner economy.

In essence, we have to start looking at the bigger picture. That is the only way we are going to make the real and sustained progress we all want to see.

This article is sponsored by Quality Meat Scotland

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Read the most recent article written by Sarah Millar, Quality Meat Scotland - Associate Feature: Why Scotland’s butchers are not just High Street heroes.

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