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Great Scot! Staying positive to promote Scottish food production

Ahead of speaking at NFU Scotland’s Autumn Conference on Thursday 28 November, well-known industry figure Dr Jude Capper, ABP Chair in Sustainable Beef and Sheep Production at Harper Adams University urges positivity in the promotion of Scottish food and drink and that the true colour of Scotland’s farmers and crofters is green.  Dr Capper writes:

The saying “may you live in interesting times” is often cited to be a traditional Chinese curse. Whilst this claim is dubious at best, there is no doubt that that the past 18 months have been some of the most “interesting” that we could ever have expected, thanks to COVID-19. Although devastating from a health, economic and social perspective, one of the few advantages of the pandemic is that it highlighted the benefits of local food and farming.

When faced with dwindling food supplies and closed restaurants, milk, meat and eggs flew off the shelves and the popularity of farm shops soared, with 42% of people in the UK valuing food and essential goods more than they had done before the pandemic1. This was accompanied by a huge surge in home cooking (Google searches for “bread recipe” hit an all-time high in March 2020), suggesting that we have a considerable opportunity to boost the image of Scottish food production by reminding consumers of how they much they valued local food and farmers during the pandemic.

Consumers considering giving up milk, meat and eggs cite animal welfare, environmental impacts and human health as their three top concerns3. We therefore need to work hard to maintain consumer confidence relating to these topics, primarily through adopting a culture of continuous improvement, benchmarking the improvements that we make, and communicating them effectively.

It’s easy to be despondent, with the popularity of campaigns like Veganuary often leading to the supposition that everybody will become vegan soon. However, despite a global publicity campaign, only 582,538 people2 worldwide pledged to undertake Veganuary in 2021, which, in context, is slightly smaller than the population of Sheffield.

Plant-based meat or dairy alternatives are also often cited as having increased market share by 200, 300 or even 500% over the past few years, yet a considerable increase in a very small proportion still represents a negligible market share.

Furthermore, we really don’t know whether plant-based foods are actually replacing meat, milk and eggs or whether people simply enjoy incorporating new foods into their existing diet – for example, adding a vegetarian sausage to their bacon and eggs.

We must put consumer choices into context – a recent report4 concluded that adopting a vegan lifestyle is far less impactful than taking one fewer long-haul return flight per year, driving an electric car or taking public transport.

This is not entirely surprising when you consider that a return flight to Paris from London Heathrow would generate the same carbon footprint as producing 216 litres of British milk5; or that the greenhouse gas emissions from flying to Sydney, Australia would be equal to producing 172 kg of British beef5 - nine years’ worth of beef consumption for the average person.

Being as transparent as possible, having open and honest conversations to explain why we do what we do, and sharing our values is crucial. We must demonstrate our devotion to caring for livestock, the environment and local communities to show that our true colours…are green!

You can register to attend NFU Scotland’s conference, to attend in person or online, at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NFUSAutumnConferenceRegistration  The conference is being held at Carnegie Conference Centre, Halbeath Road, Dunfermline KY11 8DY on Thursday 28 October, 9.25am-12.45pm (registration from 8.45am)

References

1 Data from YouGov survey carried out in 2020. Question asked: “Which, if any, of the following do you think has changed since the Coronavirus outbreak began in the UK?” https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/otidumbhkq/YouGov%20Survey%20Results%20-%20Food%20Foundation.pdf

2 Veganuary. 2021. Veganuary 2021: The official survey results are in! https://veganuary.com/veganuary-2021-survey-results/

3 Data from YouGov survey carried out in 2019. Question asked: “Which, if any, of the following factors might encourage you to adopt a vegan/vegetarian diet?” https://yougov.co.uk/topics/resources/articles-reports/2019/03/18/future-food-flexitarian

4 Ivanova, D., Barrett, J., Wiedenhofer, D., Macura, B., Callaghan, M. and Creutzig, F. 2020. Quantifying the potential for climate change mitigation of consumption options. Environmental Research Letters. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/ab8589

5 Calculations based on GHG emissions flight data from: https://co2.myclimate.org/en/flight_calculators/new;  
A carbon footprint per litre of milk of 1.18 kg CO2-eq from: https://projectblue.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/Research%20Papers/Dairy/411045_carbon_footprint_report_year_3_final.pdf
A carbon footprint per kg of boneless beef of 35.5 kg CO2-eq: https://projectblue.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/Research%20Papers/roadmap_3_-_down_to_earth_180112-final-report.pdf

Dr Jude L. Capper, Harper Adams University
Email: JCapper@harper-adams.ac.uk

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