Banning beefburgers won’t cut carbon concerns

Many of us enjoy firing up the barbecue during the summer.
Many of us enjoy firing up the barbecue during the summer.
  • View from Holyrood
  • Rachael Hamilton is MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire

With all this rain around, it seems as if summer has disappeared for a while.

When the sun has been shining, we all have enjoyed firing up the barbecue. Our favourite barbecue food, however, has been under the spotlight recently.

Meat consumption and its impact on climate change has been the topic of conversation, and quite often conflicting pieces of information have been bandied about by various sources.

Recently, Goldsmiths University banned meat from food outlets on its campus – a move which I believe is totally ludicrous. If we pick apart why such a decision was made, it becomes clear that the provenance of the meat and the alternatives are being misunderstood.

Firstly, in Scotland and the rest of the UK we have some of the most ethically and environmentally-sourced beef and lamb in the world. Our systems are based on natural methods of meat production, with grass being converted into nutritious meat, which plays a key role in a healthy diet.

Our countryside acts as a natural carbon sink too. Our vast forests, peatlands and lochs store carbon and prevent it from entering the atmosphere. There is a plentiful water supply, so there is no issue of diverting it from people for animal use.

Limiting meat consumption ultimately shifts the burden onto crop production.

Eighty per cent of Scotland’s farmland is unsuitable for producing cereals, fruit or vegetables, but well suited to quality beef and lamb production.

Therefore, if we were to try to keep food miles to a minimum and eat seasonal vegetables, Scotland’s soil characteristics would not be able to cope with such a huge shift in dietary change.

Secondly, Goldsmiths University needs to look realistically at what alternatives to meat it is serving up in its canteens and food outlets. Alternative foods such as avocados or soya lead to massive soil erosion, water scarcity and rainforest destruction, often in areas around the world that do not have the means to manage this damage.

We need to do our bit to save the planet, but importing alternative foodstuffs in lieu of locally-produced meat is not the solution.

We need to eat less meat, but in doing so making sure the meat is of better quality and locally sourced.

If we all converted to a plant-based diet north of the border, the landscape could not cope and it would lead to the further degradation of the topsoil. Simply banning or drastically limiting meat consumption is a very simplistic and poorly thought-through way of tackling climate change.

So when the rain does clear, you can be assured that while you’re flipping your Scottish beefburger on the barbie, it comes from a place that has some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the world.