SCOTLAND could lead the way by being the first nation to develop environmentally-friendly dietary guidance that takes into account foods that are healthy for the planet as well for humans, according to a leading climate change scientist.

David Reay, chair in carbon management at Edinburgh University and Scottish Government advisor on rural policy, said that Scotland should seize the opportunity to develop “planetary” guidance to help Scots eat well while reducing carbon impact.

Earlier this month, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) warned that the climate crisis is damaging the ability of the land to sustain humanity.

It warned that continued destruction of forests and huge emissions from cattle and other intensive farming practices would intensify the climate crisis and recommended reducing the amount of meat in our diets.

Yet while many have argued that vegan diets are the most sustainable, Reay – who was also an expert reviewer for the IPPC report – claims that achieving a sustainable diet is “complex”, particularly in Scotland where land where sheep graze could not be used to grow other crops.

Issues for consumers to consider include environmental impact, including the amount of carbon produced regardless of food miles travelled.

He said: “The health recommendations are important, but at the moment they are solely about human health and what is good for us. There is an additional factor in the question of whether it is good for the environment too.

“So dietary recommendation that actually combines both those things could be really powerful. That would be a wonderful thing for Scotland to work out – what is a good planetary diet in the Scottish context, to come up with recommendations about what is good for sustainability, for our health and also for the environment.”

He added: “As far as I have seen, no nations have done this so far.

“We are a nation which is famous for the food and drink we produce.

“We are also a nation that has ambitious climate change targets and actually, if we can deliver this in an integrated way, we’ll set a benchmark for the rest of the world to follow, which would be amazing.

“I think the Scottish government could take a lead, working with Food Standards and the NHS looking at what is our dietary advice.”

He also claimed producers and suppliers should look again at introducing better planetary health guidance on packaging, with a “traffic light” system for high, medium and low carbon impact of various food, similar to that used to measure salt, fat and sugar.

“The labelling is an interesting one,” he said. “It’s something Tesco did in terms of carbon footprint a couple of years ago, but they stopped because they didn’t see a consumer demand. I think that is there now and a lot of people would like that information. Now we have more ability to measure the carbon footprint of our food.

“I think traffic lights are really good – if you look at a number it’s hard to know what that means. In terms of orange juice is that a good or a bad number so something like that could be done.”

Stephen Hendry, Food Standards Scotland’s senior policy advisor for food labelling, said he had no direct comment to make on the proposal but claimed it was essential that claims made by producers were credible.

“Labelling helps us make decisions on the food we buy. Any additional claims on labels, such as about the environmental friendliness of the product and information on social and ethical considerations need to be clear, accurate, and not mislead the consumer.”