Kate Rowell, chair of Quality Meat Scotland

THIS TUESDAY, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) will be showcasing a diverse line-up of world-class speakers from across the globe at our inaugural ‘MEAT: The Future’ conference.

Sponsored by the Clydesdale Bank, the aim of this event – which is set to be attended by more than 400 people involved in the Scottish red meat industry – is to look at ways that the whole supply chain can work together to support, develop, promote and protect our sector now and in the future.

I am hugely proud of the beef, lamb and pork produced in Scotland. As well as earning a global reputation for its outstanding taste, our quality assured Scotch Beef PGI, Scotch Lamb PGI and Specially Selected Pork has an exceptionally strong story to tell in terms of sustainability and animal health and welfare.

There’s no doubt that there are a huge number of challenges ahead of us in both the short and longer term – with Brexit, a difficult media landscape, changing consumer behaviour and the biggest one of all, climate change, all featuring extensively in conversations throughout the industry.

However, there are most certainly opportunities for us to increase sales of Scotch Beef PGI, Scotch Lamb PGI and Specially Selected Pork both here in the UK and overseas, and delegates at the conference will hear from internationally renowned speakers about how we can work together as a supply chain to seize and maximise these opportunities.

In the morning session, Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy will take to the stage, followed by James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, who will speak on the role of the red meat supply chain in achieving the ‘Ambition 2030’ goal of £30bn in turnover by 2030.

Over the last couple of years, the increase of anti-red meat rhetoric has been particularly challenging for our industry, so I am delighted that world-renowned academic, Dr Frederic Leroy, Professor of Food Science at Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, will join us to discuss combatting the myths around red meat and how the industry can face the challenges of the current post-truth era.

Climate change is, of course, an issue which has come rapidly up the news and political agenda and is now the dominant factor in future policy making for both agriculture and the wider economy.

Scotland has set a target of net zero emissions by 2045, and our sector must play its part in reaching this. We are in an incredibly strong position, as no other part of the economy has the ability to become such a big part of the solution, and we should grasp this opportunity with both hands.

At the moment, we are being cast as the villains of the piece, but I believe it won’t take much for us to become the heroes. There are huge areas of research taking place across Scotland just now looking at how we can decrease the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, while at the same time increasing the carbon absorbed by soil, vegetation and trees.

At the conference, Dr Jude Capper, a leading independent livestock sustainability consultant who is passionate about the role of animal agriculture in sustainable food production, will highlight more of the positive environmental credentials of Scottish red meat production.

Beef and sheep farmer and past Scotch Beef Farm of the Year winner, Robert Fleming, of Castle Sinniness, will join pig farmer, Jamie Wylie, Ruchlaw Mains, in showcasing how they have been working to future-proof their businesses by implementing a range of changes to become more sustainable.

Consumers’ interest in the provenance and safety of their food and the health and wellbeing of the livestock used to produce meat, remains strong as does the need to drive productivity and efficiency throughout the supply chain.

The Scots were global pioneers in introducing whole-of-life, whole-chain quality assurance 30 years ago and these schemes continue to underpin and provide a valuable USP for the Scotch Beef PGI, Scotch Lamb PGI and Specially Selected Pork brands. However, in this changing world, we cannot rest on our laurels and at the conference Dr Rod Polkinghorne, chairman of Meat Standards Australia, will discuss how the Scottish red meat industry can create other unique selling points for Scotch Beef PGI, in particular.

Post-Brexit market access to Europe is a key concern to industry as this market takes over 90% of Scottish beef and sheep meat exports. Equally important, though, will be the terms of trade for European and global imports to the UK and Scotland in a post- Brexit era, as the rest of the UK is the destination for around two-thirds of Scottish abattoir output and significant numbers of live animals.

However, even though Brexit uncertainty is casting an extremely unwelcome shadow over trade, recent export figures clearly demonstrate overseas demand for our world-renowned brands – Scotch Beef PGI and Scotch Lamb PGI. At the conference, Federico Stanham, resident of the National Meat Institute Uruguay, will discuss ways to maximise export potential. Uruguay is the smallest country in South America with 3.4m people and 12m head of cattle, with 65% of its beef production servicing export markets.

History has repeatedly shown the Scottish red meat sector’s resilience. It is built on strong foundations and the modern industry features a unique combination of the best of tradition and innovation.

However, we need to build on these strengths and future-proof our industry to form a solid platform from which it will be ready to seize opportunities as they emerge, along with the challenges, in the coming years. That’s what this conference is all about.