The Scottish farming sector is fighting back against recommendations in the latest Climate Change Committee (CCC) report calling for a sharp drop in meat consumption and livestock numbers.

Industry bodies have slammed the ‘swingeing’ and ‘short-sighted’ proposals within the report as ‘unjustified’ and that ‘moving to ultra-processed plant-based foods will not make the environmental and public health changes the committee is looking for’.

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A united front of Scottish red meat sector organisations has now written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Westminster’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) to challenge the assertions within the controversial report.

The influential independent committee used its report on criticise what they see as a lack of progress across all the UK’s governments on climate change and it felt ‘markedly’ less confident than a year ago that targets would be reached in cutting carbon emissions. The report does not just cover meat consumption, but also criticises the UK government for lack of progress on a range of topics, including coal power stations, air travel and heating in homes.

The 438-page report welcomed falling livestock numbers across the UK but noted this was despite ‘no policy support in this area to support the current momentum in the right direction’. Then went to to call for further government intervention to push people to eat less meat.

The report wants to see meat and dairy consumption down by 20% by 2030 which they claim would see an additional emissions reduction of 5 MtCO2e. They also claims there is an ‘apparent willingness of the public to make dietary changes suggests that the CCC’s more ambitious 28% decrease in meat consumption by 2035, is achievable’.

In a letter signed by bodies across the Scottish red meat sector, the authors criticised the CCC for its ‘simple and brutal conclusions which are both extreme and unnecessary’ and for failing to recognise the critical role the sector played in UK food security. It explained that the survival of the red meat industry in Scotland is at stake, more so than the rest of the UK, since so much of the country’s less-favoured land is unsuitable for crop production.

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The united Scottish red meat sector said: “Reducing the herds arbitrarily, which is what the committee wants to do, would devastate the red meat supply chain in Scotland, causing economic devastation to the Scottish economy, and destroying dozens of rural communities.

"The Scottish red meat sector is already working on a net zero roadmap. That piece of work is not quite complete but, when it is, it will set out exactly where the emissions are coming from and how they can be further reduced – without slashing herd and flock numbers.”

It also highlighted that winding down the red meat sector would also put at risk 50,000 jobs which are underpinned by Scottish livestock, adding: “Given that the UK imports a volume of beef to the equivalence of the country’s beef suckler herd annually, the aim should be to increase domestic meat consumption, not reduce herd numbers. That way, the country could have greater food security, reduce the costs of transporting products into the UK and protect jobs, livelihoods and communities.”

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The issue is also raging across in the EU, with Professor Erik Mathijs, chair of the EU’s Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) working group, recently calling for consumers to eat less red meat. Earlier this year, the Danish Climate Council – an independent adviser to Denmark’s government – called for two-thirds of the meat in people’s diets to be replaced with plants, and recommended a tax on high-emission foods, such as beef.

The letter was signed by:

Kate Rowell, chair, Quality Meat Scotland; Martin Kennedy, president, NFUS; Paul Ross, chair, Scottish Beef Association; George Jarron, president, Scottish Craft Butchers; John McCulloch, Agri and Rural Affairs chairman, SAYFC; Peter Myles, chair, National Sheep Association Scotland; Ian Bentley, president, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers; Neil Wilson, executive director, Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers Scotland; Marion MacCormick, chair, Pig Industry Leadership Group; and Ian Muirhead, Scotland policy manager, AIC Scotland.