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by Kate Rowell, Quality Meat Scotland
09 March 2023
Associate Feature: There is no Good Food Nation without quality red meat

Associate Feature: There is no Good Food Nation without quality red meat

Last month, it was announced that Edinburgh had become the first Scottish city and European capital to sign the Plant Based Treaty (PBT).  Since then, Quality Meat Scotland and other industry stakeholders have been expressing their disappointment by drawing attention to the facts that we would have liked considered in the making of the decision. 

The Treaty, launched during COP26, which calls for a shift towards less meat and dairy consumption, maintains that food systems are the main driver of the climate emergency and suggests shifting consumption towards plant-based diets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The non-binding commitment from Edinburgh Council will see the promotion of plant-based food over red meat and other animal related products in schools, hospitals and nursing homes, although young people will ‘still have choice in their meals’. While this may appear minimal in its immediate impact, our industry remains concerned about the message it sends, and the potential desire for other towns, cities and councils to follow suit.

Looking at Scotland as a meat-producing nation, over 80% of the land is grass or rough grazing, which is not suitable for crops, but ideal for livestock. The grass grazed by livestock absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and captures it in the soil and our abundant rainfall creates lush grasslands without the need for irrigation. Indeed, whilst the PBT takes a world view in relation to agriculture and its apparent ‘degradation, we must remember that ecosystems are not arbitrary; they are localised and distinct and therefore are affected in different ways by different production systems. 

In fact, the way red meat is produced in Scotland is not directly comparable to any international red meat production system and vice versa.

Red meat production in Scotland is carried out under some of the highest welfare standards anywhere in the world. We have been global pioneers, with Quality Assurance Schemes that aim to bridge between regulation and consumer expectations, meaning that we can produce world-class food products that also carry high levels of integrity over animal welfare, product quality, food safety and the environment. With regards to the latter, our farmers have been working hard to reduce carbon emissions in line with our Net Zero ambition, as well as ensuring that biodiversity and our landscapes enhanced for the benefit of generations to come.

We must also open our eyes to the negative impact some plant-based diets have, particularly around their impact on water use, resource use, the environment and greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of importing exotic and often highly processed plant-based food from around the world, the best thing we could do for both sustainability and food security is to champion locally produced food and drink products, which in Scotland means Scotch beef, Scotch lamb and Specially Selected pork.

This is especially pertinent from a public procurement point of view, and something we would urge is boosted as part of the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation plans, which local authorities and health boards are legally obliged to create as part of the Good Food Nation Act. If our intention in Scotland is to have a fair, healthy and sustainable food system that connects the dots between agriculture, public health, climate policy, planning, workers’ rights and animal welfare, then we need to encourage collaborations between farmers and crofters, businesses within the supply chains and citizens to ensure we achieve the best outcomes for our communities.  

There is no doubt that we are facing a climate emergency that requires drastic action but adopting a meat-free stance is far from the miracle solution, with the health of Scotland’s economy and people sure to suffer as an unintended consequence. By producing a natural source of many of our essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B12 and D, forming the backbone of our rural communities and contributing over £2 billion annually to our national economy, the Scottish red meat supply chain cannot continue on this misunderstood trajectory.

That is why the Scottish Red Meat Resilience Group, an industry leadership body designed to provide a collaborative working mechanism for key membership organisations within the Scottish red meat sector, is reaching out to each of the 32 Local Authorities across Scotland, including Edinburgh. Our intention is that this can lead to valuable opportunities to discuss the benefits of red meat from Scotland in a healthy, balanced diet and how we can all work together to ensure Scotland’s Good Food Nation Bill delivers jointly for the Scottish people and the Scottish food and drink industry.  


This article is sponsored by Quality Meat Scotland. 

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