By David MacKenzie, Harbro beef and sheep director

What place does beef production have in the future, within the UK?

To have a future and a strong place in the domestic food supply, beef will have to find a place that meets the desires and demands of consumers, aligns with government policy and fits within the strategic environmental commitments made by leading retailers.

Beef production and farming as a whole is not alone in this changing landscape. Every business from leading FTSE-based companies to small family firms will have to 'join the journey' on climate commitments.

To do this, they first have to establish where they are and where they genuinely want to be. As many farmers know, when moving animals between fields, some animals follow a lead and walk out to the new field, while others need to be chased out.

This approach is one that many company directors have to grapple with, but for FTSE-based companies the potential threat by leading investors such as pension companies, not to invest when there isn’t a clear strategic approach to climate change, will force then 'out of the gate' very quickly.

We know that red meat production has been the focus of a lot of negative publicly recently. Headlines on reducing red meat consumption and a carbon tax being added brings the situation right to the fore in everyone’s thinking.

As always, establishing the true facts of the current beef production model and coupling this with policies from the devolved governments of the countries across the UK is not straight forward. All of the enterprises that feed into the beef industry have a critical role in working with and achieving ambitious environment targets.

The whole supply chain from retailers, red meat processors, auction markets as well as all the industries that feed into the beef industry that focus on nutrition and genetics and ultimately of course farmers, need to aim to achieve the same goal of food production with net zero targets.

Everyone in the whole chain must try to understand three points: 1, your government policy; 2, retailer targets; 3, how your business is currently performing from an environmental prospective. Once understood and evaluated, we all have to ask ourselves – Are we entering the next agriculture revolution?

Are we at the point where we need to accept and embrace a 'climate crisis' more than the softer term of 'climate change'? We cannot answer this until we fully evaluate our current position and the speed and depth of change needed to meet environmental targets and government policy.

The stockmen who breed cattle the world over, with their traditional values that have been passed down the generations for selective breeding and utilising home-grown cereals and forages are completely perplexed by the growing attack that red meat has had and is facing.

Many farmers in rural upland areas produce a natural product that has been improved and advanced through scientific means, but in complete sync with the surrounding landscape and environment. This beef is produced by people with a deep sense of pride in their historic place in food production and security, not just in their local community, but throughout our entire nation.

Business leaders such as the former governor of the Bank of England, Dr Mark Carney and the business magnate and philanthropist, Bill Gates have taken a global lead in engaging with politicians and business leaders in the depth of change in strategy, to meet net zero targets. As more of the high level influencers join the stage, the more air time and media exposure this will bring.

As the two major news stories of recent years, Britain’s departure from the European Union and the Covid pandemic both migrate back from the main news headlines, the climate crisis will receive more media attention. With the environment one of the main reasons people vote for a specific party in an election, every political party, particular in the UK and Europe, will have clear policies on delivering the targets set and will want, at all costs to avoid missing any published milestones on emissions and the environment.

Looking to the future, everyone in the supply chain will need to come together to ensure that red meat production has a sustainable future, providing food security and key nutrients for our children and the nation’s health, while delivering on the goal of net zero.

The outstanding value of Research and Development has delivered a vaccine for the Covid pandemic at breath taking speed. The meat eating public wants to see every stake holder adopt the same collective and coherent response to the climate challenge faced by the red meat production.

Enjoying a natural protein source that has been produced to a high ethical standard without a negative environmental impact, gives the industry opportunity for real growth.

Whatever the future holds, consumers want a better understanding and connection to their food purchase. The industry must engage and educate the consumer and embrace the change and that will ensure beef has a strong place in a sustainable world.

This exciting opportunity gives a platform to ensure there will be no need for any government to set a red meat tax like sugar, as our natural protein will hold a valued place in the nation’s diet and not just be eaten as a guilty pleasure.