SCOTTISH FARMING’S responsible approach to tackling climate change was almost entirely lost in the headlines generated by the latest report into Climate Change and Land Use from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Widely reported by the BBC and others, the headline message to emerge from the IPCC document was 'mankind must eat less meat and dairy to save the planet'.

Scottish farmers and industry representatives have since spoken out against being lumped in with the huge carbon footprint of intensive livestock producers in the USA and China, when in fact the meat and milk from Scotland's extensive pasture systems could rightly regarded as carbon neutral.

National Farmers Union Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “Here we have a headline-grabbing global report that, by its very nature, takes no account of an individual nation’s environmental credentials, farming systems or the steps it is already undertaking to tackle climate change.

“Climate change is a critically important issue for Scottish farming because farmers and crofters are on the front line in experiencing the impacts of climate change. They are increasingly having to adapt to changing weather patterns and increased volatility at farm level in order to maintain their businesses and still produce high quality food.

“We also take our environmental responsibilities incredibly seriously and continue to adopt practical, workable solutions and improvements to the challenge of climate change," said Mr McCornick. “Government figures on reductions in emissions show that Scottish farmers and crofters are already playing their part in reducing emissions from farming.

"We must go further if Scotland is to meet its challenging net-zero emission target by 2045, but efforts by Scottish farmers and crofters must not be at the expense of producing food or exporting our emissions by relying on unsustainable food imports. The IPCC report only deals with the global scale and it is too simplistic to just take high level global messages and apply them to Scotland. That needs some media outlets to undertake a reality check before applying the report recommendations to a nation like ours," he said.

“While it makes little sense from a climate change perspective to cut down tropical rainforests to create grasslands to rear livestock, other parts of the world like Scotland are ideally suited to growing grass, rearing livestock, and turning that grass into valuable, tasty protein that remains at the heart of balanced diets. In Scotland, it must also be borne in mind that the good land that is suited to growing crops is already being used sustainably in this way and, in most cases, it is not possible for livestock farmers to switch to their land to crop and vegetable production because of the geography, nature and vegetation of the land."

Chair of Quality Meat Scotland Kate Rowell commented: “Scotland has a very strong message to convey given our industry produces quality beef and lamb from the grass and rough grazing which make up around 80% of Scotland’s agricultural land which is not suitable for cereal, fruit or vegetable production.

“It’s also vital to note that Scotland’s production systems differ to others in other parts of the world. Scotland’s grassland acts as a carbon sink and grazing animals provide habitats for wildlife and help to maintain the landscape.

“From 1990-2017, Scottish agriculture decreased its Greenhouse Gas emissions by 29% and is continuing to work hard to pioneer new technologies which will potentially decrease methane emissions and increase carbon capture in the extensive grass areas of Scotland,” added Mrs Rowell.

Even organic watchdog the Soil Association was keen to highlight the detail of the IPCC report that spoke in favour of grass-fed livestock farming. Its head of food and health policy, Rob Percival, said: “The intensification of farming has fuelled soil degradation, deforestation and biodiversity loss – further intensification is not a solution to the challenges we face. To effectively tackle the climate crisis, we urgently need to move to farming systems that improve soil health and protect wildlife.

"Soil is critically important – humanity depends on it and it’s right that the IPCC recognises this along with calls to prioritise farming practices that actually improve our environment, such as agroforestry and mixed farming using extensive grass-based systems. We also need to radically change our diets, shifting to grass-fed livestock and plant proteins, away from unsustainable grain-fed meat."

The Sustainable Food Trust went further in its criticism of the way the media had presented the IPCC conclusions, with its chief executive, Patrick Holden, saying: “We think many of the headlines about this report are not accurate and we instead need a much more nuanced public discussion about which foods, both livestock and plant-based, are part of the solution and which are part of the problem.

"It’s all very well for those recommending a switch to eating more plant-based foods, but if those diets include foods like palm oil, genetically modified soy, almond milk or avocados, for example, all of which are from production systems that are causing damage to the environment, they will do nothing to tackle climate change.”