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Food reform is vital for climate goals

A Zero Waste Scotland report has concluded that the way we produce, consume and dispose of food will need to change if we’re to meet our net-zero target and end the climate crisis.

29 Jun 20

The publicly-funded expert body said a national effort to reduce carbon emissions from food and create new jobs from waste was “vital” to Scotland meeting the 2045 goal and forging a “sustainable, secure and prosperous” nation through the green recovery after Covid-19.

The report, entitled ‘The Future of Food’, sets out the need for a new plan at the heart of the greener economy to produce a low-carbon supply of healthy, homegrown food cutting emissions and waste while creating valuable new jobs and businesses in the bioeconomy.

Launching the report, Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said:  
“Our country and our food and drink sector have a bright future and farming will always be at the heart of that. But to turn into reality we must all think about food and farming differently. 
“Farmers have always been the custodians of our natural resources and we are aware of the many positive actions that they have already taken, however there is a growing need for them to further embrace their role as custodians of our climate as well. It’s a huge ask and we can’t expect them to do it all themselves.

“This is not just about farming. It’s about all of us. We all have a role to play and there are valuable opportunities for us all too.

“As consumers or retailers, we need to confront and address our unsustainable demand for food. We’re all responsible for vast amounts of food waste, which is one of the worst causes of the emissions behind the climate crisis.”

Referring to the new report, which highlights everything from peas and beans to insect farming and microalgae as key potential solutions to the problem, he added: “We need to do things differently. Our report reviews sustainable protein strategies developed by other governments around the world to support a switch to low carbon agriculture as they have concluded that this is key to enabling the economic and environmental sustainability needed to solve the climate crisis. 

“All these international strategies include increasing domestic production to reduce reliance on imported protein which can destroy vital habitat overseas, increases emissions and leaves countries like ours vulnerable to the kind of disruption to global supply chains which we’ve seen in stark relief during the coronavirus pandemic.

“These strategies also all promote significant bioeconomy opportunities, turning waste products into valuable sources of protein, and carbon emissions into carbon savings. With our leading farming and wider food and drink sector, Scotland is ideally placed to create food systems which support economic and environmental growth. 

“A protein strategy for Scotland would make farming ‘circular’ by ‘closing the loop’ locally to stop resources being wasted and going to landfill and instead get best value from everything which farms produce. That means diversification into greener, protein-rich foods and other high value products such as biofuels and natural fertilisers to cut emissions further and support jobs while also feeding the nation sustainably.”

The benefits of legumes like peas and beans lie not only in providing low-carbon protein for people and livestock, but also absorbing nitrogen from the atmosphere back into the soil to act as a natural fertiliser.
Insect farming is among the key opportunities which Zero Waste Scotland has previously identified as a “game-changer” with the potential to reap millions of pounds and cut carbon emissions by “upcycling” the nation’s food waste. This could be used as a high-protein feed for farmed fish, ending the need to import soya from abroad, and to make biofuels and fertiliser. 

Other options featured in the new report include growing edible mushrooms using waste from the forestry sector and cultivating microalgae to make animal feed using sunshine and carbon dioxide. 

Earlier reports by Zero Waste Scotland have estimated that up to £800 million could be saved each year in the beer, whisky and fish sectors alone through better use of waste and byproducts.  

Such savings and profit are key to the success of a sustainable circular economy, which keeps resources in a ‘loop’ of use as long as possible to maximise value and minimise waste and emissions.

Zero Waste Scotland is already working with other experts across academia, agriculture, aquaculture, forestry and the wider food and drink sector to explore the value of a protein strategy as part of its work promoting and supporting efforts to cut emissions from food. This includes workshops, webinars and the Circular Economy Investment Fund for innovative businesses turning waste into valuable resource.

The call for a sustainable protein plan was supported by leaders in both business and academia.

Allison McPherson, Sustainability Specialist at Scottish Enterprise, said: “Sustainable, local, low carbon sources of protein for feed and food will not only support the goals of Scotland’s net-zero policy, but promote innovation, job creation, farm diversification and entirely new supply chains within Scotland.” 

Professor Derek Stewart, business sector leader in agri-food at the James Hutton Institute, said a protein strategy for Scotland was a “rallying call” identifying opportunities and benefits for industry, the environment and society. 

He said: “Protein is central to our diet and nutrition and we need to ensure that it is produced and delivered sustainably based on evidence-based decisions. 

“Indeed, a protein strategy could be a key driver to delivering on the aims of Scotland’s carbon emission reduction targets whilst offering major new opportunities for growth in the Scottish food and drink sector.” 

Zero Waste Scotland is leading on work to meet a key Scottish Government target to reduce food waste by a third by 2025 as part of growing efforts to end the nation’s contribution to the climate crisis and reach net-zero by 2045.


Notes For Editors

Who we are:

Zero Waste Scotland exists to lead Scotland to use products and resources responsibly, focusing on where we can have the greatest impact on climate change.  

Using evidence and insight, our goal is to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy.  

We are a not-for-profit environmental organisation, funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund. 



Zero Waste Scotland’s new report, entitled The Future of Food: Sustainable protein strategies around the world, is available here. 


The Food Waste Reduction Action Plan launched in 2019 is available here.

Zero Waste Scotland’s reports on the multi-millionpound potential for insect farming in Scotland are available here.


For media enquiries contact:

Julia Horton, Senior Content Writer, Zero Waste Scotland

M 07951 346119 E julia.horton@zerowastescotland.org.uk 


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