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Time for the facts to enter meat production debate

It’s time to bust the myths surrounding meat production and consumption with fact-based truth and a big dose of reality, a task for producers, processors and retailers that needs to be the  top priority in 2020 if our industry is to have any sort of meaningful future, says the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).

“Scotland’s red meat industry is one of the jewels in the crown of the country’s hugely successful food and drink story and we need to make sure that 2020 is the year in which we fight back against the poorly-researched, factually ignorant and thinly-based myths advanced by those whose agenda is to demonise meat production and consumption,” said SAMW President, Andy McGowan.

Andy McGowan

“We have a strong and positive message to deliver on behalf of the natural grass-based livestock production systems on which the quality image of Scotland’s beef and lamb output is founded, alongside the impressive efficiency of our high health status pig industry. We need to unite as an industry in getting behind QMS to present this strong message to the nation’s increasingly confused consumers.

Position of strength

“Thankfully, we start from a position of strength in that consumers love our product. It’s the best starting point possible and one we need to keep in focus as we address the fake news stories posed by the anti-meat lobby. The recent BBC programme which focused on South America farming systems and US pork production was a prime example of poorly researched material being used to draw conclusions that attacked the meat industry.

“While consumers love our product, they are constantly made to feel guilty about choosing to eat meat, being regularly exposed to a mantra of anti-meat propaganda, dressed up as concern for a host of other issues. We’re perfectly content, in fact, to focus on life and farming within our own backyard and what happens here. Our story is solid and secure and made in Scotland for all to enjoy. This is the context in which we need to make sure the fact-based counter arguments to anti-meat propaganda are clearly and simply presented in 2020.

“I’m thinking of the sort of argument advanced recently by Benoit Cassart, speaking on behalf of UECBV, the European meat trade body, who pointed out that Europe’s ruminants are fed from ‘155 million hectares of permanent grassland that the European ecosystem enjoys’. He also stated that ‘one hectare of grassland is as effective as one hectare of forest in absorbing CO2 and maintaining biodiversity’.

“We only ever talk about agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, added Benoit, never about its enormous role in storing carbon through its production.

“He also drew attention to the many other contributions to society which can be traced back to ruminants. This includes their role in helping farmers to reduce their use of chemical fertilizers by maximising the livestock sector’s natural fertilizer to help restore essential microbial life to our soils.

Mr McGowan, speaking on behalf of member businesses whose commitment to the country’s red meat sector underpins trading activities worth £2 billion and the direct employment of 3000 workers, paid tribute to the many member companies who have continued to invest in new plant and equipment throughout the Brexit period, while also committing people and finance to international trade exhibitions, inward and outward trade missions and all other activities to promote Scotland’s red meat exports.

He also commented on the need for the industry to be fully equipped and properly supported by Government in the year ahead.

“Now that election outcome is known, we obviously need clarity concerning Brexit and the EU trade deal negotiations which will follow once the withdrawal agreement is approved,” he said. “Having already lived through three-and-a-half years of business upheaval and uncertainty, following the 2016 referendum result, we need the future path, whatever it is, to be progressed smoothly and fairly.

“In the midst of all the unknowns of the UK’s ‘Brexit and beyond’ era, we would urge the governments in both Scotland and the UK to back our industry at this time.  We’re confident that we can continue to deliver strongly as an industry in 2020, placing top quality products in front of consumers in Scotland, the UK, the EU and wherever else the future takes our country. But we need our governments to give us their support in ensuring the move away from the EU CAP is organised smoothly to build on our key strengths as a nation that farms its livestock in a sustainable way, protects the rural environment and builds up its potential to produce top quality beef and lamb for meat lovers everywhere.

“We’ve had sufficient political soundbites to last us a lifetime. What we need now is political action that makes a real difference, enabling member companies to achieve their potential in 2020 and beyond. There are great opportunities ahead but these can only be achieved if our industry is given the right support platform on which to build the country’s new future.”