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Scottish Red Meat: Greener Than You’d Think

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Scottish Red Meat: Greener Than You’d Think

October 21
20:07 2013
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To consider the true effect of our red meat production on environmental sustainability, it is necessary to understand a bit more about red meat production in Scotland. Most cattle and sheep are reared extensively on grass for their entire lives, and around 50% of agricultural land is classified as ‘rough grazing,’ meaning it’s best-suited to livestock rather than arable or other high volume farming purposes. The fact is that total agricultural production emissions have dropped by 20% since the 1990 baseline figure used in Scottish Government calculations. This compares well against the 12% reduction in emissions from industrial processes, and only a 4% drop from energy production over the same period.(AEA, 2008) Ninety-seven percent of livestock emissions come from a fermentation process that takes place in the digestive system of ruminants such as cattle and sheep. According to a recent study funded by Quality Meat Scotland, DEFRA and the other agricultural levy bodies, Scotch Beef has a much lower impact on the environment than Brazilian beef imported to the UK market. Most carbon released into the atmosphere is in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). Ruminants release carbon in the form of methane (CH4), which has about 25 times the greenhouse impact of C02 and is therefore multiplied by 25 to achieve an equivalency to C02. The scale of methane emissions depends upon the size of the animal and its diet. Maximising the growth rate and converting as much of this ‘lost energy’ into the production of meat, through more efficient feed conversion, is an effective way of reducing the emissions. It is also important, when thinking about greenhouse gases, to consider the contribution of red meat production within the context of the carbon cycle. Rather than simply looking at emissions, the transfers between carbon stores should be taken into account. Deep-rooted perennial grass pastures and trees found in grazing systems across Scotland are important carbon ‘sinks’. Grazing cattle consume carbon stored in plants, and some of that carbon is then released into the atmosphere as C02 when they breathe, and methane as part of the digestive process. That carbon dioxide is then reabsorbed by plants as they grow and so the cycle continues. It is clear from the statistics and research undertaken over the past few years that consuming Scottish-produced red meat is significantly kinder to the environment than purchasing meat sourced from animals reared overseas. Aside from initiatives such as more efficient feed conversion, the impact that home-reared meat has on the surrounding area is lowered still further by the reduction of food miles in delivering it to its end destination. Whether it’s to a restaurant, hotel or caterer’s kitchen, minimising food miles is one of the most important ways of maintaining C02 levels at acceptable levels. And that is why Scotland’s red meat is greener than others.

This article has been edited from its original version. For the complete feature, please see Catering in Scotland magazine September/October 2009.

 www.qmscotland.co.uk

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Scotland is recognised on the world stage as a producer of quality red meat, and our production systems have evolved over many years in response to our distinct landscape and climate; Indeed, our unique systems can differ significantly from red meat production systems in other countries, and we are faring well in terms of lowering our agriculture-linked emissions of greenhouse gases, as Margaret Stewart explains…

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Catering Scotland

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