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Red Meat, Health, and Climate Change in Scotland

By Scott Walker

At the request of the Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland (FSS), in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, modelled the impact of decreasing meat and dairy consumption on the nation’s intake of essential nutrients.  This study was prompted by the Climate Change Committee’s suggestion for the Scottish Government to promote a 20% reduction in meat consumption by 2030, increasing to 35% by 2050.

Yet, amidst calls for reduced meat consumption to mitigate climate change, FSS issues a cautionary note.  They emphasise that a blanket reduction in meat and dairy consumption could exacerbate existing micronutrient deficiencies, particularly among those already with low intakes.  Therefore, their advice regarding the consumption of red and processed meats remains unchanged.

The findings of the research underline the importance of a well-rounded diet that includes Scottish red meat.  The research conducted by Food Standards Scotland and the University of Edinburgh indicates the necessity of finding a balance between climate objectives and maintaining people’s health and nutrition.  Red meat serves as a significant source of vital nutrients crucial for overall health, including iron and selenium for immune function, B vitamins for energy, zinc for children’s growth, and vitamin D for bone density.

Issuing a blanket public health recommendation to decrease meat consumption could disproportionately affect the nutrient intake of women and girls, many of whom already struggle to meet dietary recommendations.  In Scotland, average consumption of red meat now falls below the recommended daily limit of 70g set by government experts, with women showing lower consumption than men.  This suggests that most individuals are already consuming an appropriate amount of red meat for their health and well-being.

So, what’s the takeaway from this debate?  Moderation is key.  Incorporating Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb, and Specially Selected Pork into a diet alongside other nutritious options, red meat remains an integral part of a healthy eating plan.

Scotland is renowned as one of the most sustainable regions for producing high-quality, nutritious red meat.  Farmers consistently operate in harmony with the environment, particularly within the beef supply chain, actively working to reduce emissions in accordance with government policies.  Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) supports Food Standards Scotland’s aim of encouraging adherence to the official Scottish Dietary Goals.  Red meat can be a component of a healthy, balanced diet, especially when consumers opt for brands such as Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb, and Specially Selected Pork, which adhere to evidence-based welfare and environmental standards.

Rather than setting targets for reduced meat consumption solely to address climate change, there should be a concerted effort to achieve all of the Scottish Dietary Goals and support a greater number of people in adopting the Eatwell Guide dietary recommendations.