The Royal Highland Show opened with a clarion call in defence of the red meat sector.
Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) chairman Jim McLaren is in the last few weeks of his term of office and he clearly had messages for governments, both local and national, when he spoke at the breakfast which opened the four-day event.
Firstly, he highlighted the folly of setting what is known as a ‘net zero’ target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
If it was to be met it would have ‘devastating consequences’ for many sections of the Scottish economy and would mean the end of livestock production, Mr McLaren maintained.
The source of his unease can be found in a published briefing note to the Climate Change Bill being considered by the Scottish Parliament.
Under the section on agriculture, it said: “Committing to substantial further reductions in agricultural emissions would imply livestock farming for meat and dairy production becoming unviable in Scotland.”
Mr McLaren warned his audience, which included Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Fergus Ewing, that setting a legal net zero target now would require 16,000 hectares of woodland planting per year, the use of GM crop technology and zero livestock production.
All this was taking place, he added, against a backdrop of a totally inadequate, ‘not fit for purpose’ system for measuring emissions from agriculture.
“At the core of every emissions reduction measure ever invented is the reduction of waste and the more efficient usage of all resources,” said Mr McLaren.
“In agricultural terms, this includes improvements in animal health and welfare, increased conception rates leading to more animals on the ground, more efficient use of artificial fertilisers through soil testing and targeted lime application, and better use of grazed grass.
“Yet under the current method of assessing emissions, every one of these measures increases the carbon footprint of agriculture, despite the fact we all know they are greatly reducing the emissions per unit of production.”
He said the current targets for reducing emissions were already world leading and ‘highly ambitious’ and had already led to significant improvements.
Mr Ewing said Mr McLaren’s contribution was ‘thought provoking’, adding: “If there is one country in the world which is suitable for livestock production, it is Scotland."