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Time to prioritise as COP26 arrives in Scotland

By Kate Rowell, Chair, Quality Meat Scotland

With November fast approaching, anyone and everyone in Scotland is aware of one major event on our doorstep that’s getting ever closer: COP26.

The delayed UN Climate Change Conference is set to propel the nation to the forefront of the globe’s media attention, putting Scotland’s policies – and those of countries and organisations around the world – under intense scrutiny.

It is also an important opportunity for all of us in Scotland to emphasise our position as a leader in sustainable and inclusive economic development, with a genuine focus on a net zero future that works for everyone.

Accordingly, we can expect a spotlight to be shone on our rich agriculture industry here in Scotland, which is one of the most sustainable places in the world to produce beef and lamb.

Many myths exist around the role of agriculture in climate change, and, as an industry, we can sometimes feel under threat when discussions start to swirl, with the temptation to respond with a myth-busting exercise.

While there are certainly some oft-repeated falsehoods to address, we also need to talk positively around our own story as an industry. After all, we are in an excellent position to do so.

Consumers increasingly want to engage with their food. They’re interested in understanding where it comes from and how it’s produced. Shopping locally is back on the agenda for many, and is a far more sustainable way to pick up our goods as we choose locally-sourced products over cheaper, imported alternatives.

Our homegrown products have the level of impressive sustainability credentials that consumers are looking for, with Scotland’s climate and landscape perfect for producing top quality and sustainable red meat.

Over 80% of Scotland’s agricultural land is grass and rough grazing, which is not suitable for growing cereals and vegetables. This means that Scotland’s livestock consume the plants we can’t eat and in turn produce a product which we can: sustainable, nutritious and delicious grass-fed Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb.

Scotland’s production systems also function as part of a natural cycle. Our grassland absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and captures it in the soil, contributing to an important carbon sink with grasslands, preserved through livestock grazing, estimated to be able to store up to 500 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

Over the past decade, Scotland’s prime cattle producers have, through improved technology and management practices, reduced the time taken to produce Scotch Beef by 5.5% whilst increasing the meat yield by 4.5%. This means Scotch Beef has one of the most sustainable GHG footprints at 18.7kg CO2 equivalent per kilogram of live weight, which less than half of the world average.

Supporting these innovative developments with farmers is something we take incredibly seriously. We recently partnered with NFU Scotland and SAC Consulting to host factfinding farm visits for local MSPs, MPs and Councillors across Scotland, highlighting the importance of sustainable food production for the country and the benefits of agriculture to the Scottish economy.

Running weekly right up to COP26, the visits have an emphasis on the environmental innovation taking place on farms, and demonstrate the specific elements of production that deliver positive action for the climate and biodiversity that Scottish farmers are taking.   

It’s a real chance for our members to show the ways they are using and producing renewable energy, investing in low carbon technology, delivering effective carbon capture and investing in biodiversity and wildlife enhancement to help the country reach net zero.

Climate change means concerted action must be taken by everyone involved in Scottish agriculture. This is a nuanced process that involves protecting livelihoods across the nation that we all rely upon, with the Scottish Red Meat Industry being a priority sector that supports over 50,000 jobs throughout Scotland.

These are issues that affect all of us, including every single person in Scotland and across the UK. We can all play our part. We should be proud in what we have, and continue to achieve in producing world-class Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Specially Selected Pork. That’s why we should all be lending our support as farmers showcase their efforts in the battle against climate change and the production of local, sustainable red meat.