Royal Highland Show organisers hit out at Edinburgh joining Plant Based Treaty

Organisers of Edinburgh’s Royal Highland show react to Capital's “worrying” Plant Based Treaty endorsement
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The organisers of Edinburgh’s Royal Highland show have criticised the Capital’s endorsement of a vegan pledge. Edinburgh became the first capital city in Europe to sign up to the Plant Based Treaty, which calls on local governments to act to reduce food-related emissions from animal agriculture.

But the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS), which represents 16,000 farmers and rural people, says the pledge supports a “worrying” narrative about meat and dairy’s connection to climate change which is too “simplistic”.

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Alan Laidlaw, chief executive of RHASS, told the Edinburgh Evening News: “What strikes me as particularly worrying is the growing narrative that meat and dairy are the main driver of our climate emergency with the Plant-Based Treaty presented as the ‘solution’ to our environmental woes.

Organisers of Edinburgh's Royal Highland Show have criticised a council pledge to join the Plant Based TreatyOrganisers of Edinburgh's Royal Highland Show have criticised a council pledge to join the Plant Based Treaty
Organisers of Edinburgh's Royal Highland Show have criticised a council pledge to join the Plant Based Treaty

“As an industry we are only too aware of our responsibility to cut carbon emissions and our sector is driving forward many innovative ways in which to achieve this, while protecting consumers right to choose what they wish to eat.”

‘Locally sourced meat has less impact on the environment’

Edinburgh council’s policy and sustainability committee on Monday (January 23) voted for a green amendment to endorse the Plant Based Treaty, which is also backed by local governments in Los Angeles and Haywards Heath.

It comes after a report found food and diet account for 23 per cent of Edinburgh’s consumption-based footprint, with 12 per cent of these emissions from the consumption of meat. The report concluded a shift to plant based diets would “significantly reduce the city’s consumption based emissions”.

Alan Laidlaw, chief executive of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (Lloyd Smith)Alan Laidlaw, chief executive of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (Lloyd Smith)
Alan Laidlaw, chief executive of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (Lloyd Smith)
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However, these findings have been criticised by the RHASS, which described them as “simplistic”. Mr Laidlaw said: “We are concerned that the simplistic view that a shift to plant-based diets would significantly reduce the city’s consumption-based emissions. What this evidence fails to consider is that 80 per cent of Scottish land is grass or rough grazing which is not suitable for crops but ideal for livestock. Furthermore, grass grazed by livestock absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and captures it in the soil.

"The inconvenient truth is the way red meat is produced in Scotland is not directly comparable to international red meat production systems, but we are simply not being listened to.”

Mr Laidlaw called on city leaders to ensure that evidence used to contribute towards decision making is “evidenced and balanced”. He said: “Rather than cancelling red meat consumption altogether should the council not be taking the socially and economically responsible approach of sourcing locally produced products? Locally produced red meat has less impact on the environment and has greater local economic impact than a globally produced avocado.”

The RHASS runs the biggest agricultural show in Scotland each year in Ingliston, which Mr Laidlaw pointed out contributes £39.5 million to Edinburgh’s economy each year – more than Hogmanay. He said: “It is ironic to think that the world’s most respected agricultural show could be held in a city that actively discourages meat and dairy farming!”

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