Sustainable food: The case for Scottish meat and dairy


With sustainability on everyone’s minds and concerns surrounding meat production a worldwide talking point, Rosalind Erskine takes a look at Scottish beef farming and dairy.





Scottish beef is known across the world for its quality, but how sustainable is it? With the reasons for the rise in veganism being cited as wanting to help save the planet, what do those that want to continue to eat meat and dairy do? The answer, according to Quality Meat Scotland, is to shop locally and look out for the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status.


There are many sustainable aspects to Scottish beef (and lamb) from economical, to environmental and social. For example, Quality Meat Scotland explains that the water sheep and cattle drink in Scotland is not diverted from human use. Our less than perfect weather plays a part as the ample supply of rain in Scotland creates a lush grassland which is ideal for the natural production of livestock.


This grassland, which is a food source for cattle, also plays a part in carbon capture, much like trees. How the cows graze too adds to this, with hill and upland farms playing a substantial role in improving the environment through the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.


The beef industry has been working hard to further reduce its carbon footprint. Restructuring and efficiency have improved waste and carbon emissions, which have reduced by 27 per cent between 1990 and 2010 according to the National Atmospheric Emission Inventory. This work continues, with support from Quality Meat Scotland who also have their Scotch Beef Club, which promotes quality.





It’s not just the beef industry that’s improving its sustainability, though; dairy too is becoming more green. One of Scotland’s biggest and most well-known dairy businesses, Graham’s the Family Dairy, announced its innovative zero carbon climate change plans as part of the wider Scottish Government Energy Strategy last year.


Robert Graham, Managing Director, Graham’s The Family Dairy said, “Building a sustainable environment for our next generation is incredibly important to our family. We are actively working to achieve net zero carbon across every area of our business.


The dairy sector has the potential to lead in the transition to a net zero carbon economy, particularly within the areas of heat and transport. Our plans for the Glenfield dairy in Cowdenbeath will mark a step change in investment within the dairy sector in zero carbon innovation, infrastructure and skills development to accelerate climate adaptation within industry. This builds on our recent investment in a 15 MW solar park on our farmland in the Carse of Stirling as we move our business, at speed and scale, to decarbonise.”


By choosing Scottish beef and dairy, customers are not only supporting local businesses but the food miles are lower and therefore eco-friendlier. Plus, these sectors add to the economy. According to Quality Meat Scotland and Scottish Red Meat Profile 2012, Scottish red meat (beef, lamb and pork) production contributed more than £2 billion to Scotland’s economy in 2011 with beef production the single biggest contributor to Scottish farm output.


Consumer interest in sustainability is only set to rise, and with COP26 on the horizon, Scotland’s green present and future will be on the world stage. Happily for us, our beef and dairy industry are also continuing with innovative practices, such as regenerative farming and bioenergy, to hit net zero operations. As we come out of the pandemic and focus more keenly on climate change, here’s hoping these practices in Scottish beef and dairy will add to the debate on the future of our food, diet and the planet.




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