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Farming Matters: Niall Blair - 'As an industry we are slow to publicly promote ourselves'

Last week saw the launch of the Quality Meat Scotland ‘Meat With Integrity’ campaign.

If social media is anything to go by, it appears to be a hugely visible push towards better public understanding of our industry and as such we should all be on board to help promote it.

 

Those involved in the conception and production deserve much credit. Why as an industry are we so slow to publicly promote ourselves?

 

Perhaps it is because we have so many industry bodies which we rely upon, quite rightly, to do this job for us, yet they seem to be on the back foot – from my own experiences it certainly seems like we have lost the information battle.

 

Most of the UK population appears to know very little about how their food is produced. What they do know is fed to them via the media.

 

Unfortunately the current media trend is to repeatedly promote a negative image of the livestock industry. Information is fed to them by organisations and dare I say corporations with vested interests.

 

Fiction

 

Statements no longer need to be based upon fact. Messages can be repeated day in and day out and inevitably fiction becomes a ‘truth’.

 

So what is the answer? I fear that for the millennial generation eating trends have already shifted, a quick read of any ‘trendy’ pub menu will confirm this fear, half the offerings being vegan orientated.

 

It will be hard to convince this sector of the market to return to more ‘traditional’ eating patterns.

 

As a matter of urgency we need to work on the promotion of clear and consistent messages much in the way that the anti-meat lobby has done.

 

For example, when it comes to the carbon footprint of beef and lamb production the media is continually telling the public that these are major contributors to global warming, yet actual figures proving this appear subjective and vary depending upon livestock systems and countries of production.

 

In terms of Scottish livestock production no account is taken in respect of the CO2 removed from the atmosphere by plant and soil production.

 

I know that it is a complex matter but imagine the positive message we could put to the public if we prove that our beef and lamb are carbon negative or, at least more sustainable than other protein sources.


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Information

 

Some farms are halfway there in terms of the information that would be required to demonstrate credentials – having carbon audits carried out under the beef efficiency scheme.

 

It is unfortunate these audits take no account of carbon sequestration. In terms of biodiversity, we continually hear about the barren and sheep wrecked hills and uplands, but where is the evidence for this? Since the decoupling of agricultural payments there are less stock on the hills than there has been for generations.

 

I can think of a number of local farms where undergrazing has caused a dominance of monocultures.

 

How much biodiversity is there on a hill of rank heather?

 

If the industry took the initiative we could fund ecological monitor farms. Again, imagine the positive message we could promote to the public if we could demonstrate the findings from even basic ecological surveys.

 

My farming system is by no means unique yet I could list numerous examples of species and habitats of conservation interest which are a direct result of livestock grazing.

 

More than ever we need our industry bodies to step up to the mark. Television and radio adverts may make a small difference to meat consumption, but if positive messages could be ingrained into the mind of the public, it could make a huge difference.

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