Red meat sector worth £2.8 billion to Scottish economy

The red meat chain sustains over 39,000 jobs
calendar icon 17 October 2023
clock icon 3 minute read

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) released an assessment of the vital economic contribution of Scotland’s red meat supply chain to the Scottish economy, according to a press release from the organisation.

The last time a similar assessment was undertaken was in 2016. Red meat production contributed between 36% and 38% of Scottish agricultural output in the latest five years for which figures are available, with almost a quarter of output coming from the iconic beef sector.

“This report is vital to understanding the red meat supply chain in Scotland’s total - as well as its rural economy," said Sarah Millar, QMS’s chief executive. "Red meat is fundamental to Scotland’s agri-food sector, with an annual economic output of an estimated £2.8 billion, up over 16% from £2.4 billion in 2016."

The red meat supply chain is absolutely fundamental to wider Scottish agriculture. It includes on-farm production, farming inputs and processing. Whilst varying regionally, red meat output accounts for 36% of national farming output, with on-farm output now up by more than £100m, from £1.16 billion in 2016, to £1.27 billion now. 

The wider supply chain also generates important revenues with £885m from meat processing, £361 million from core supply trading (veterinary, machinery, fertiliser, feed and repairs/buildings) and a further £225 million in output from other farm supplies. 

“There is opportunity to retain more value from the red meat chain if more Scottish livestock were processed in Scotland, but this requires the whole chain to work together to build the opportunities in a number of ways – as we outlined in QMS’s five-year strategy at this year’s Royal Highland Show," the report said. "It’s vital that we all shout loud and proud about our meat’s provenance, quality, and the heritage of our Scotch red meat to develop an increase in domestic supply contracts as well as export opportunities, hand in hand with ensuring that there is sufficient abattoir capacity to process the increased throughput."

The report also gives a comprehensive update on the employment within the red meat chain, which currently sustains over 39,000 jobs, 80% of which – 31,200 people - are on farm, 3,880 in meat processing, 2,000 in the core supplies industry – such as feed and veterinary services - and 2,200 employed in other supplies to the sector.

“Livestock farming is so important to the fabric of our rural economies, supporting both hired and family labour, in full-time and in part-time roles, and in-turn other local businesses in rural and remote places," Millar said.

“What’s also important to note is that, when you add in the further processing of red meat into cooked foods and food service, for example, the total employment contribution of the red meat sector is even greater.”

Finally, the report highlights the importance of red meat-based agriculture to remote rural areas. 

"The farms and crofts that produce store lambs and cattle underpin economic activity in much of Scotland, and importantly, the hills and islands of the north and west," Millar said. "Without crofting and hill farms, there would be increased depopulation and the hollowing out of remote communities.”

“This report highlights the continued importance of the red meat supply chain both to Scotland’s economy as well as our rural communities," said Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon.

“Improvements in on-farm efficiency as well as work to further build the brand and reputation of our nation’s iconic meats have led to a marked increase in value of the sector," she added.

“This is down to the diligence and hard work of farmers, crofters and all those who work in the wider supply chain.”

The full report can be accessed through the QMS website here.

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