A stark warning that overly ambitious targets set out in the Scottish Parliament’s Climate Change Bill could prove disastrous for Scotland’s beef and sheep farmers was made at yesterday’s Royal Highland Show.
Claiming that the thrust of the bill, plus the wider “anti-red meat” agenda, represented a far greater threat to the sector than the uncertainties of Brexit, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) chairman Jim McLaren said his fears were backed up in documents from the Scottish Government.
He said the publication – produced to give guidance on the likely economic costs of the proposed cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – flagged up the potential for “devastating consequences for many sectors of the Scottish economy, including agriculture” if the “net zero” target was adopted.
McLaren said the paper spelled out the fact that setting such a target would mean the end of viable livestock farming in Scotland. He said that the report had concluded that a 90 per cent cut would be “at the very limits of feasibility” – but the bill proposed going for a 100 per cent reduction.
Defending the farming industry’s record in reducing emissions, he attacked the current methodology for measuring agriculture’s contribution, terming it “not fit for purpose”, and said: “Our farming industry is a world leader in efficiently converting inedible forage protein into high quality red meat through the medium of the rumen.”
He added that in a world which was concerned with water consumption, the industry had a moral obligation to maximise food production in Scotland “where it rains a lot”.
He said that at the very core of every emissions reduction measure was the reduction of waste and the more efficient utilisation of all resources.
“In agricultural terms, this includes improvements in animal health and welfare, increased conception rates leading to more animals on the ground, more efficient use of artificial fertilisers through soil testing … and better use of grazed grass.
“Yet under the current method of assessing emissions, every one of these measures increases the carbon footprint of agriculture – despite the fact we all know they are greatly reducing the emissions per unit of production.”
And he said that rather than pursuing the toughest climate changes measures, the country should concentrate on leading the world in developing a fit for purpose means of measuring emissions from agriculture – adding that Scotland’s world-leading research institutions could do this and put the country at the forefront of assessing the true contribution of grass-fed livestock.
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said that it was important for farming to play its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but added: “If any country’s climate is suited to livestock production then it is Scotland’s. And I have made clear my preferences for a voluntary approach – working with farmers to change mindsets, attitudes and practices willingly.”