Sir, – I’m finding myself more and more agitated – sick of it would be closer to the mark – by the misrepresentation and the ‘bandwagon-jumping’ that’s going on regarding the effect of eating red meat on climate change.

Listening to the news, you would be forgiven for believing that red meat production is a major factor. I accept that there are different beef production systems worldwide and some of those will, undoubtedly, have a higher carbon footprint than others. Hauling (irrigated) feedstock long distances to intensive feedlots, or deforestation to create relatively poor quality cropping land to produce feed for beef animals would be examples.

But let’s consider for a minute what a great deal of beef production worldwide and certainly the UK industry actually does.

Wetter parts of the world, including most of the western and a lot of the northern parts of UK, are simply not suitable for large-scale arable or vegetable crop production. It’s just not going to happen. But these areas are great for producing grass, often on land that has other limitations like gradient, soil depth and quality to make it of little use other than for grass – or trees that we can’t eat.

Grassland is universally recognised by scientists as an important carbon sink and, unlike trees, most of the carbon it captures is stored underground.

Solar energy – in short supply in Gretna Green this month – makes this clever green stuff grow and efficient herbivores such as sheep and cattle convert that solar energy into protein and energy that humans can eat and digest.

Added to that virtual cycle is a second one – the grazing habits and the dung produced by these grazing animals improves fertility naturally and sustainably whilst supporting an eco-system of bugs and beasties which, in turn, support bird life and other ecological diversity.

So, grass-based beef and lamb systems, as in most of UK, enables us to eat protein produced by animals that are eating grass that is powered by rainwater and sun and is capturing carbon in areas that are unsuitable in any event to grow other crops whilst benefitting the environment in other ways at the same time. That doesn’t sound like a planet-killing food production system to me.

But the media sound-bites that we are hearing daily would make most people feel guilty about buying red meat. There appears to me to be an abject failure by media to look at the more nuanced reality. It feels like a classic case of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’, treating all production systems as one and misrepresenting to the public in the process.

But let’s not put all the blame on others. All of us in our own industry must face up to our own responsibilities. Responsibilities not just to ensure high animal and ecological welfare systems, but to communicate much better. We can’t blame others for not knowing what they don’t know.

Into that vacuum has moved misinformation. So I urge all farming organisations including unions, associations and breed societies and individuals to get together, get organised and spend some proper time and money communicating the positive story about what we do.

That's not by telling people what to do, but by getting the science out there about what we do. It’s probably the single most important aspect facing our industry long after the 'B' word has settled down.

If consumers choose to ask more questions about where their red meat comes from, I would love that. If choosing to eat less red meat, I respect the right to make that choice. But please do not do so in the belief that eating less UK produced red meat is somehow going to help our environment. It is not.

Alasdair Houston

Gretna House Farms,


Dumfries and Galloway.