WHEN as a society did we start apologising for eating meat?

I overheard a conversation on a train recently, where a lady asked the individual to her right, ‘do you mind if I eat this in front of you?’ She was referring to a bacon roll, and it so happened the individual in question was a vegan.

When did we start to feel guilt or shame and feel the need to explain our decisions to others?

For me, it happened when I was in primary six. I had moved to a new school and one of my friends said to me, ‘I can’t believe you eat your own cows, that is so cruel’. At the time I was very upset and told her I loved my cows and looked after them very well. That memory has never left me.

Fast forward over 10 years and I am sitting in the BBC, disagreeing with a producer on a children’s TV series, who refused to explain what happens to cattle before we eat them. The series was all about teaching kids about the farm-to-fork process, but it was missing an important piece in the puzzle.

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There is a deep-rooted shame around acknowledging that livestock are killed for us to eat their meat. When farmers get confronted by attacks on their livelihoods and asked if they are comfortable with killing their animals, they often feel nervous about how to respond, how they will be perceived, and I’ve known some to even apologise.

The fact of the matter is that livestock are raised in this country for the purpose of meat production. Yes, they deliver a multitude of other benefits to society, but that is their primary role, and they have been doing it for over 10,000 years.

Scotland has abundant natural resources in the form of grasslands and water, which make it well suited to rearing livestock, not to mention a skilled and dedicated farming workforce, a strong reputation for animal welfare and product quality and a farming landscape which is driven by a strongly pro-climate government policy.

I feel no shame about my decision to eat meat and feel comfortable about the way animals are killed here in the UK. I’ve visited abattoirs and witnessed the care and attention that goes into the process, spoken with the dedicated and skilled teams who are involved across the killing and preparation stages, and hugely admire the work they do and their contribution to Scotland’s revered food and drink story.

I feel deeply proud of farmers in this country, and these past two weeks with temperatures plummeting well below freezing, my admiration soared, with farmers out day and night, checking their animals in the bitter cold, to ensure they had enough food to keep warm and relentlessly carting water to frozen troughs at all hours of the day.

Farmers are out in all weathers, their dedication to their livestock stretching far beyond the expectations of a 9-5 job, yet when it comes to defending that final piece of the puzzle, we drop our heads in shame.

This guilt and our inability to express pride and support for the process behind our meat, plays directly into the hands of movements which have been growing of late, movements calling for an end to livestock production, actively trying to pull on the guilt strings of the public.

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In November we saw Stirling University become the first university in the UK to vote only to serve plant-based food in its Union by 2025. A decision made by 127 people out of a student population of over 17,000.

Shortly after we saw the release of PETA’s turkey advert, trying to shame us all for wanting to eat turkey this Christmas and then there was the Animal Rebellion protests across the country, pouring away milk in supermarket shelves, calling for a plant-based future.

I do think there is a need to reduce meat consumption in this country and move to more sustainable levels, where we can be sufficient in produce from our own shores and chose only high welfare meat with a lower carbon footprint.

I take no offence at someone eating plant-based food, I respect everyone eats certain foods for their own beliefs, allergies, or tastes and there is plenty of space to accommodate different diets in society.

I do, however, struggle with the line being pushed that meat and dairy production is destroying the planet – a very dangerous and simplistic view to take, one which ignores the nuances of livestock production and completely disregards the efforts being made by farmers to adapt their businesses and practices to be more nature and climate friendly.

In the past two weeks, the Climate Change Committee released a report calling for a reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 20% by 2030 and for meat to go further, by 35% by 2050. These recommendations are not new, and are a reserved matter for the UK Government, but the report was urging on the Scottish Government to set their own targets.

The huge risk here, is that farmers are actively incentivised to lower livestock production, yet consumer demand may not fall in line. If we reduce our domestic stocks, we are in danger of leaving a gap in demand which supermarkets will simply fill from elsewhere, which means importing meat or dairy which carries with it a carbon footprint and no guarantee over animal welfare, as it is out with our jurisdiction.

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We are already about to see domestic food production drop in our country in the year ahead, the costs of the past few months playing havoc with the bottom line of many businesses, resulting in many farmers already planning on reducing their head of livestock or cutting back on tattie planting or wheat production.

There are countless barriers springing up against our farmers, be that summer droughts, rising fertiliser costs, disease threats, ongoing labour shortages but farming has remained resilient.

The shame and guilt which is bubbling up in society when it comes to addressing where out meat comes from is a betrayal to hard working and dedicated farmers that needs to be called out.

The next time you eat a bacon roll or tuck into your turkey dinner this weekend, think about the hours spent, in all weathers, tending and caring for that animal, and I hope your thoughts aren’t lined with guilt, but with immense pride.