President's Blog - 28 November 2019

If the BBC programme “Meat a threat to our planet?” achieved anything, it served to highlight our moral responsibility to feed ourselves and not export our environmental conscience abroad writes NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick.  

When it aired on Monday night, anyone with an interest in the production of beef, lamb, chicken or pork sat down in trepidation of what was about to be broadcast into the living rooms of British viewers, consumers and licence-fee payers.  Those hoping for balance were sadly disappointed.

Without doubt, there were real issues highlighted on farming methods in other parts of the world which no British farmer or crofter would deem acceptable. 

Social media went apoplectic on how the unbalanced programme portrayed the production of meat, something that remains a staple part of a healthy balanced diet for over 96% of our population. 

There are people that believe they can eat their way to a better planet, whilst still doing all the flying, travelling and consuming of luxuries they want, and this programme did nothing to address that myth. 

On luxuries, the Restart Project estimates that the annual upgrading of mobile phones, with sales of 1.9 billion per annum, now has the same total environmental impact as a nation like the Philippines with 100 million inhabitants.

Here in Scotland, we are in a far better place than we are given - or give ourselves - credit for.  We are promoting, fighting and challenging to get this message to our politicians, decision makers and consumers and we need to stop being so defensive.

To me, the real message that the BBC chose to miss was not how badly things are being done in the rest of the world but how much better we are doing here.  That must be our selling point as it’s such an opportunity to add value. 

We must continue to press to have locally sourced, locally processed and fully farm assured produce available and labelled as such. 

We, as producers, provide full traceability for food safety, adhere to standards of welfare that are world leading with substantial but unreported environmental credentials.

Regrettably, the programme chose not to air a clip of a grassland-based beef producer in the US whose sustainable systems of production and pasture management mirrors how we in Scotland and the rest of UK operate.  

We rely on grass as our main food source for our animals both in summer and preserved for the winter. Grass, which we cannot eat, and is predominately grown on land we cannot cultivate.  Yet, those animals that graze and maintain this grassland deliver a high quality, nutrient dense source of protein, rich in minerals and vitamins to complement our diets. And, most importantly, it tastes fantastic.

Grazing helps the planet via the carbon cycle with photosynthesis removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into edible plant tissue. When grazed, that grass and heather supports the micro fauna and flora and biodiversity both in and on the soil. We never get credit for this as land managers and this must change, as this is a real positive for our industry.    

The politicians can help with this, especially as they appear to want change delivered at warp speed. Farmers and crofters want to lead, but we must have support in making further changes and improvements to our delivery of meat, milk, fruit, vegetables and grains in a sustainable and profitable way. 

Agriculture policy can start the process by recognising that which is already being done but also in developing and using the best of science to make it possible to deliver more from less. 

There are techniques being used in developing countries which we are not allowed to use that would make additional, significant differences to our environmental credentials without damaging our ability to meet the rising demand for food from the growing population of our country and the world. 

We must go out to the world and sell the great backstory of our producers and processors and the environmental credentials we have. 

We must throw the gates open on our farms and crofts and invite in foreign and local buying delegations alongside our own consumers and sell our whole package on value not on price. 

That’s the way to eat ourselves to a better climate and that is the programme the BBC should be making.                    

Author: Andrew McCornick

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About The Author

Andrew McCornick

Andrew, who is married with three sons and a daughter, was born and brought up on a dairy farm in Wigtown. Andrew and wife Janice farm their 230+ ha unit with 160 suckler cows and 600 breeding ewes with a small herd of pedigree Charolais cattle. Andrew's sons farm a nearby tenanted unit which frequently provides replacement breeding stock for Barnbackle. For as long as Andrew can remember, he has been a member of the Union, and got more involved when the consultation for Nithsdale NVZ came out. From there he went onto become vice chairman of the Dumfries branch, and then onto his previous role of Regional Board Chairman for Dumfries and Galloway. He also sat on the LFASS committee. Andrew was elected Vice President in February 2015.

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