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A national tragedy is occurring and no-one seems aware it is destroying our farming communities and will ultimately do major damage to our economy.
The media have mostly accepted Government spin that farmers are damaging our environment, our planet and our international brand reputation.
It is no wonder consumers are confused and also believe farmers are responsible for global warming when, in New Zealand, nothing could be further from the truth.
In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) produced a report that determined livestock and meat production contributed to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GGGE), the same amount as transport.
In 2009, the FAO admitted it had overstated the impact of meat and revised it down to 14%. It also admitted it had used different methodology and under-calculated the full impact of transport which also incorrectly inflated the impact of meat production.
It is hard to un-ring the bell, and the incorrect information has been commonly misused to undermine our farming communities and the natural grass-fed free range production systems that provide nutritious single-source proteins essential for a healthy diet.
New Zealand produces far more food than we consume and most of our meat is exported, hence our carbon footprint per capita for food production is high relative to that of other countries.
New Zealand is responsible for 0.16% of GGGE. Of this, half is from agriculture (0.08%) and of that, half is from dairy farming. Meat production and all other agriculture — including crops and horticulture — contributes 0.04% of GGGE.
The truth is New Zealand red meat production has such a small impact on the planet that whatever we do makes no difference.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something, as we all have a responsibility to reduce our carbon and environmental footprint, but our Government is virtually forcing farmers off the land with ridiculous policies, including subsidising forestry planting that is destroying valuable livestock land cared for by generations of sheep and beef farmers.
We will not only lose the land, we will lose employment for rural communities and meat processing plants, and
valuable export earnings.
Many people think they should consume alternative proteins, including from genetically modified soya imported from Brazil (often farmed in former rainforest areas), shipped halfway around the world and bound together with artificial ingredients.
Leading cancer specialists have advised the major contributor to cancer in modern society is processed foods and yet we are being directed towards heavily processed alternative proteins or recommended by the government to consume more poultry that is artificially grown using hormones and antibiotics.
The anti-meat lobby will point towards studies on the impact of red meat consumption on bowel cancer, yet the truth is the most comprehensive study discovered that eating further processed meats every day increased the risk of bowel cancer by only 18% (due to the nitrates and artificial ingredients used in production of bacon, sausages and salamis) whereas there was no evidence to suggest unprocessed red meat is any way harmful when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
All food production comes with a carbon footprint, and this is often ignored by those promoting alternative proteins.
New Zealand red meat is grown on extensive farms that offset between 80% and 90% of methane and other farm-based emissions through sequestration of CO2 from the grass, native planting, shelter belts and set aside areas — and yet none of this is recognised or acknowledged by the FAO or our own government.
The Government is pursuing policies that fail to recognise our natural production systems and continue to penalise and undermine farmers when we should be promoting our natural low-carbon red meat to the world.
It is perpetuating a myth that our market access will be undermined unless we adopt their policies.
Taxing and regulating farmers into extinction will have no impact on climate change but an enormous impact on our rural communities and our economy.
For many years, most livestock farmers have been improving their environmental footprint while urban New Zealand has made little or no contribution.
Recycling bins have been the single contribution by most urban dwellers while we continue to expect farmers to do the heavy lifting to improve our image and carbon footprint.
Local councils continue to release untreated sewage into oceans and rivers, while the Government has done little to invest in genuine recycling and is only willing to subsidise electric vehicles by penalising farmers and tradespeople through taxes on essential non-electric vehicles.
New regulations regarding waterways could be the final nail in the coffin for many farmers who have been consistently working towards improving land and water quality but are now being forced into unrealistic farm practices that are uneconomic and impractical. For many, it is too much to bear, both financially and mentally.
If you have stopped eating New Zealand lamb, beef and venison because you don’t like animals being killed, or you don’t like the taste of meat, you have every right to do so. If you no longer eat meat because you think you are saving the planet. you are sadly wrong.
Unfortunately, we have a Government that is perpetuating that confusion and, in the process, destroying the communities that have led the world in environmental stewardship, provided economic prosperity for New Zealand and fed consumers around the world with some of the most natural and nutritious single-source proteins, that also taste delicious.
- Glenn Tyrrell is supply chain programme director for The Lamb Company.