SNP ministers have been told to draw up a blueprint to level with the public about “potentially contentious issues” including cutting meat and dairy consumption – while taxing high carbon foods has been pointed to as a potential "radical" solution.

The Scottish Government has been told to be upfront with the public about what changes to diets will be required if carbon emissions are to be cut by 75% of 1990 levels in just 11 years' time, as MSPs have committed to.

It took Scotland 30 years to half 1990 levels of harmful emissions and carbon levels will need to be cut in half again in the space of a decade for the commitment to become a reality.

Statutory adviser, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has recommended red meat and dairy consumption is cut by at least 20% and potentially as much as 40%.

But the Scottish Government has been told to work out how to square that need with a pledge to double the value of the country’s food and drink sector to £30 billion by 2030.

One climate expert has warned that “people don’t want to be told what to eat by a nanny state” and has pointed to a “more radical” option of placing a carbon tax on food, making red meat more expensive – with revenue raised used to subsidise fruit and vegetables for those on low incomes as a "radical” way forward.

MSPs on four Holyrood committees investigating the Scottish Government’s delayed climate change plan update have issued a string of recommendations to ministers.

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The Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has appealed to ministers “as a matter of some urgency” to publish its proof of the contribution each policy will make towards a 24% anticipated emissions reduction for agriculture up to 2032, adding that “this evidence needs to demonstrate that, cumulatively, the measures proposed will be sufficient to allow that target to be met”.

MSPs on Holyrood’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee have told the Scottish Government it must set out “how it intends to tackle potentially contentious issues such as changing diet...to ensure that there is a degree of consensus building, including the levers that are required to make this happen”.

The committee has also called on SNP ministers to investigate “the implications of dietary change and include measures to address the challenges of dietary change” in their climate change strategy and.

HeraldScotland: The Scottish Government's anticipated emissions reductions in agricultureThe Scottish Government's anticipated emissions reductions in agriculture

The Government has also been told to “review any research and evidence linked to the CCC recommendation to reduce meat and dairy consumption by 20% in order to understand the potential implications of this proposal in a Scottish context.”

Pete Smith, professor of soils and global change at Aberdeen University, has starkly warned that “dietary change in Scotland is required if we are to meet our net zero (target) by 2045, stressing that “the issue does need addressing”.

Professor Smith said that to "gradually change" menus in public canteens could alter behaviours.

He added: “The reason it is so contentious is because people don’t want to be told what to eat by a nanny state, and with use of food banks on the rise, no politician wants to risk making the situation worse, especially for the poorest in our society.

“What might be easiest for the government and public sector to do is to gradually change what is offered in our public canteens through meat free days, and eventually removal of all red meat or all meat from menus.

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“This will still be controversial, and there will be resistance from the farming industry – but it is one way the Government can encourage dietary shifts.

“Other, more radical options include a carbon tax on food, which will make meat, especially beef and lamb, more expensive.

"To prevent punishing the poorest in society, the money raised would need to be used to subsidise fruit and veg, which we do not eat enough of. All of these option present issues of social justice and equity – so any government will have to tread a very thin line.”

NFU Scotland has stressed that Scottish farmers and crofters “are committed to taking steps to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis” but at the same time pressing forward with an ambition of the country’s food and drink sector doubling in value by 2030.

Climate change policy manager for NFU Scotland, Ruth Taylor, added: “To achieve all that, we need to see leadership from Scottish Government in setting out future agricultural policy with urgency and delivering clarity on what is required from the sector. We also need to see a just transition for agriculture given that the sector underpins a vibrant rural economy and supports almost 70,000 jobs across Scotland.

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“On dietary change, the focus must be on buying local first and foremost, otherwise we run the risk of simply offshoring our consumption-based emissions.”

The Scottish Government believes consumption of red meat is already at a sustainable level. Ministers have set a dietary goal of no more than 70 grams a day, pointing to advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and Food Standards Scotland – amid estimates the number is currently around 60 grams per person.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to making farming and food production more sustainable - both economically and environmentally. We believe that, with changes in farming practices, our climate and landscape means we are well placed to produce high quality meat more sustainably in the future and in a way which will help cut emissions and contribute more to nature.

“Were Scotland to cease to produce high quality food, and in particular meat, then that production would simply take place elsewhere, where it is often more carbon intensive, effectively resulting in at best, no change to global emissions and with the potential that our carbon footprint would be higher."

“We’ve set up sector-led farming groups to propose practical workable solutions to ensure that agriculture plays its part in helping Scotland meet our climate targets. The suckler beef group has already reported and work is now underway to turn its recommendations into a scheme that can be tested and rolled out across the beef sector.”