A leading Scottish farmer has accused Scottish Government officials of blocking proposals to help the beef sector reduce its emissions and instead proposing a mass cull of cattle.
Jim Walker – a former NFU Scotland president who co-chaired the Scottish Government’s suckler beef climate group – said the proposals developed by the group were being held up by civil servants despite Fergus Ewing, Rural Economy Secretary at the time, instructing officials to implement them.
Mr Walker accused civil servants of pushing an “anti-meat agenda” and said he had been told they were proposing a cull of 300,000 beef cattle from a national herd of 1.2 million cattle as a solution to reducing emissions from the sector.
“We actually designed a scheme [for the beef sector] and it was ready to go at the beginning of March, but Scottish Government officials refused to sign it off,” said Mr Walker.
“The truth is there’s a group of people inside government at official level who are interested in one thing, and one thing only, and that’s less red meat and less dairy in the diet and they will cut [livestock] numbers to meet Scottish climate change targets without any care to the rural economy.”
He added: “They have been given ministerial instructions and simply refused to implement them. It’s unbelievable.”
The current NFU Scotland president, Martin Kennedy, condemned any proposals to reduce livestock numbers in Scotland.
He said: “It would be a disastrous decision, wholly unacceptable to our industry, were any option put forward by Scottish Government that involved cutting cow numbers by 300,000 as a solution to tackle climate change.
“That lack of vision, ambition and understanding would be a complete disaster from a livestock point of view, and have a massive knock-on impact on our cereal sector given the volumes of grain grown for feed. The interdependency between agricultural sectors in Scotland should never be underestimated.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said Mr Walker’s claims were “without foundation” and his group’s proposals were not yet at a stage where assurance could be given for them to go ahead.
He said: “The Scottish Government has been clear that it will work with the farming sector to achieve the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as set out in the Climate Change Plan Update including the required reduction from agriculture, which was agreed by the Scottish Cabinet and laid before the Scottish Parliament.”
He said the Scottish Government was currently analysing the reports from farmer-led groups, and any decisions on next steps were a matter for future Government Ministers.
The spokesman added: “Civil servants have acted properly throughout this process, entirely in keeping with their obligation under the civil service code.”