WHY do climate change panels continuously take food security for granted in their dogmatic pursuit of net zero? Calling on the Government to urge for a reduction in public meat consumption might still make for a sexy headline for the press, but the lack of balanced evidence which supports such proposals is still utterly shocking.

Emissions from livestock contributes to around 5 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK – a sizeable figure and one which should and will be reduced further. But there are no accurate calculations as of yet, which back up the percentage of emissions which are offset by the livestock sector through extensive grazing.

In my day job at the Scottish Farmer, my journalism would be called in to question if I presented one side of the argument, so why is this same logic not applied to those who look to influence major policy?

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Last week, two big reports were presented to the Scottish and UK Government’s, the former made by Scotland’s Climate Assembly – a group of 100 citizens from all walks of life.

There are many fantastic recommendations that have been put forward, which albeit ambitious in their proposed timescales, could really deliver positive and tangible change for Scotland. They have called for a commitment to retrofit all existing homes by 2030 to be net zero and suggest a grant should be made available to all homeowners in Scotland by 2025, prioritising those living in fuel poverty. They ask for pressure to be placed on supermarkets and other outlets to change how perishable goods are packaged, so people only buy what they need, in an effort to reduce food waste. They also call for a frequent flyer tax or levy to discourage those regularly flying and complement this with the suggestion of making public transport cheaper and electric cars more affordable.

However, a carbon tax on food and the suggestion to implement food carbon labelling within five years – which doesn’t include the offset carbon footprint – are two ideas which raise huge red flags.

Firstly, labelling of food can be complex and difficult for the consumer to understand and make informed choices. But the sticking point here, is that the UK has not yet been able to come up with a substantive means of measuring the amount of carbon which is offset through practices such as grazing livestock, and when it does, this cannot be disregarded. If anything, we must include the offset carbon footprint to give all sides of the story, transparency with consumers must be a top priority. The negative contribution of livestock to climate change through methane production is widely discussed and recorded, but the positives have thus evaded the carbon calculations of international climate change panels.

A clear example of this, was the suggestion made by the UK Climate Change Committee for the UK Government to encourage the public to reduce their meat intake by 20 per cent by 2030 and 35% by 2050. A dangerously simplistic view which once again could ask people to make drastic changes to their diets without the evidence to properly back up their claims. The irony of this at a time where global trade talks will pave the way for food imported halfway round the world should not be lost on people.

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During a Q&A with members of the Climate Assembly, they appeared supportive of farming in Scotland, but this was predominantly around their role as countryside custodians and their capacity to respond to the climate emergency. They have called on the Scottish Government to develop and implement a farming support system within the next five years, but in the same breath, they said that this would “enable a move away from meat and dairy farming, in ways that give farmers time to adapt and diversify their businesses”. So, farming support to remove farming families from a system which has been practiced for generations and helps manage our beautiful landscapes and puts food on our tables? Tables which they would like to instead be filled with more low-carbon and plant-based options.

We have to be careful not to confuse the two! If we remove our dairy and meat farming, this isn’t simply going to be replaced by vegetables, many of our soils, because of geography, wouldn’t support it, so the gap would be filled with meadows and trees and food would have to be imported – not the low-carbon suggestion they might have been hoping for.

I was incredibly humbled this week to interview well-known Ayrshire farmer and former politician John Scott, a man who has dedicated his life to not only helping his constituents, but actively campaigning on behalf of farmers, long before he entered into Holyrood. He shared his concerns that the powers that be had forgotten the primary task of farmers was to produce food, in a blinkered pursuit to turn the UK in to a wild landscape filled with butterflies. He reminded me that this country was almost starved out of existence during the Second World War when food supplies from the Commonwealth and America were decimated by U-Boats. As a result, all post-war agricultural support both out with and within the EU was directed to improving self-sufficiency in food production until 1983 when milk and beef mountains emerged, and food production stopped being a priority.

There are many in power who make decisions on our country’s future on full stomachs and in the process have taken food security for granted. We saw a glimpse of food shortages early in lockdown, and it should serve as a reminder of why supporting our farmers, to produce food, shouldn’t be something up for negotiation.