SNP ministers have been accused of “environmental vandalism” for failing to prepare farmers for the climate emergency – after government advisers called for Scots to cut the amount of meat and dairy products consumed.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned politicians that in order to hit stark climate change targets, the average amount of meat consumed should be cut by 20% - despite pledges from the Scottish Government to expand the food and drink sector while UK meat consumption actually increased by 3% between 2015 and 2019.

The CCC alert for “a significant shift in behaviours” comes as Scotland’s Climate Assembly urged MSPs to tax carbon intensive food and roll out a carbon labelling scheme for products, similar to the nutritional traffic lights, within five years.

The Scottish Government has pledged to cut 1990 levels of emissions by 75% by 2030 on the way to becoming a net zero nation by 2045.

In its updated climate change plan, labelled “on the fringes of credibility” by the CCC, ministers hope to cut the 7 million tonnes of CO2 emitted from the agriculture sector in 2020 to 5.5 million tonnes by 2030.

HeraldScotland: The Scottish Government's carbon reduction aims for agricultureThe Scottish Government's carbon reduction aims for agriculture

The CCC has stressed that in the last few years, there has been an “increased willingness to eat less meat in the future” from the public – adding that a reduction in fresh meat products is “more than offset by a rise in processed meat” consumption across the UK.

Politicians have also been urged by the CCC to cut food waste in half by 2030 – but the Scottish Government has only pledged to reduce it by one third of 2013 levels by 2025.

Adding more pressure to Scotland’s food and drink sector, Scotland’s Climate Assembly has called on MSPs to “introduce a carbon tax on food, based on the carbon intensity of food production, and use the revenue to subsidise sustainable foods”.

The assembly, made up of 100 people representing a cross-section of Scots, said the tax “will encourage consumers to change their diet by making carbon intensive products more expensive”.

It adds that “in the long-term, it should help make food production more sustainable and encourage consumption of local produce”.

But Scotland’s food and drink sector is facing an uncertain future as it responds to both the pandemic and trading barriers with the EU following Brexit.

John Davidson, strategy and external affairs director at Scotland Food and Drink, said: “Not only do we have a moral and social responsibility to do more, but there is a huge economic opportunity for our sector in becoming a world-leader in climate friendly protein and food production.

“The collaborative approach recommended by the report, including incentivising sustainable agriculture and the production of low carbon food, is welcome and indicative of the strong relationships between the sector and the government in improving our industry.

“There is no silver bullet to reaching net zero for the Scottish food and drink industry, so we welcome industry debate and insight to which the Climate Assembly report positively contributes.”

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NFU Scotland’s climate change policy manager, Ruth Taylor, warned that on dietary change “the focus must be on buying local first and foremost”, stressing “otherwise we run the risk of simply offshoring our consumption-based emissions”.

She added: “There is a lot that the Scottish Government can and must do on public procurement, fairness in the supply chain, and education around what eating locally and seasonally means and the many benefits that would bring both environmentally and economically.”

The Scottish Government has previously been criticised for a lack of progress in cutting emissions in agriculture, along with other sectors including transport.

Labour has called on the SNP to support Scottish farmers with post-Brexit reforms to agricultural subsides being put off until 2024 – but the party has warned against cutting meat and dairy consumption.

Scottish Labour’s rural affairs spokesperson, Colin Smyth, said: “We won’t save the planet by damaging Scotland’s world-class food sector. Our focus should be on supporting the sector to grow in a sustainable way that meets our climate challenges.

“Sadly, the SNP have wasted years dithering on the way forward for agricultural support.

“Their failure to set out any meaningful changes for post-CAP support has been little short of environmental vandalism.

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“Scottish ministers who are in complete denial over the need for change and the scale of the challenge facing the sector.”

He added: “Many farmers and crofters are ready to change but right now the deck is stacked against them”

“The SNP need to start to show some leadership and set out a positive vision for the future of agricultural support.”

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie has issued a warning “Scottish farmers are facing a perfect storm”, adding “they need to make even bigger emission cuts to make up for the wasted years”.

Scottish Conservative net zero spokesperson, Liam Kerr, has warned that the Scottish Govenrment's "warm words aren't backed up by meaningful action".

He added: “The Scottish Conservatives will continue to push for the introduction of a Circular Economy Bill to reduce waste throughout our economy. SNP ministers not only failed to introduce such a Bill during the last Parliament, but also slashed funds for Zero Waste Scotland in last year’s budget.

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“Tackling climate change can go hand in hand with growing our economy. However, SNP ministers must strike the right balance and support our agricultural industry to cut emissions without hammering hardworking people and businesses."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our climate change plan update gives a clear vision and a broad range of policies to meet our emissions reduction targets up to 2032 and contribute to a just transition to net zero by 2045. However we will continue to assess the most effective ways to transition to a net zero society, including in agriculture.

“One of the ways we can all play our part in tackling climate change is by making healthy and sustainable food choices."