Buy NZ lamb to save planet – UN

British farmers have been quiet about food miles since research began to show that meat produced here had a smaller carbon footprint than theirs in spite of the distant it travels to market.

That has now been backed up by a United Nations study which produced the headline of the week in the Daily Mail:

Buy New Zealand lamb to save the planet, say UN scientists – because British farming methods produce twice as much greenhouse gas:

British shops should sell New Zealand lamb rather than homegrown meat if they want to help protect the environment, experts have claimed.

The suggestion, likely to outrage British farmers, comes after a study found the amount of man-made greenhouse gases from food production is twice as much as previously estimated.

Growing food for sheep, cows and pigs takes up far more land and emits more greenhouse gases than producing crops for human consumption.

And some methods produce more harmful gases than others, they said.

The study claims Britain, for instance, would be better off importing lamb from New Zealand which has been produced more efficiently than on its own farms. . .

This could be used as an argument for going vegetarian but a lot of land which is suitable for grazing animals isn’t suitable for cropping.
The report doesn’t go into the environmental and economic impact or animal welfare concerns of killing all the farm animals if their pasture was converted to crop land.
A media release on the report from  the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) says:
. . . While previous studies have looked at the contribution of agriculture to emissions, Climate Change and Food Systems assesses the entire food system’s emissions “footprint”—in total somewhere between a fifth and third of the greenhouse gases emitted by people on this planet.  This figure accounts for every aspect of food production and distribution—including growing crops and raising livestock, manufacturing fertilizer, and storing, transporting and refrigerating food. Agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of these emissions, but the combined contribution of transport, refrigeration, consumer practices and waste management is growing. . .
Crops also need fertiliser, storage, transport and refrigeration and contribute to waste.
However, the report does vindicate those of us who say that bringing agriculture into the ETS when none of our competitors are faced with similar penalties would do no good.
It would impose costs on what the UN recognises as very efficient food production and provide a perverse incentive for farming in other countries with less efficient systems.

42 Responses to Buy NZ lamb to save planet – UN

  1. robertguyton says:

    “This could be used as an argument for going vegetarian but a lot of land which is suitable for grazing animals isn’t suitable for cropping.”

    I believe this is an incorrect statement. It depends very much upon what you think of when you think “crop”. If you have been to Asia, you’ll have noticed that very steep land can be “cropped” intensively and sustainably. The systems they use could be applied in NZ by inventive and far-sighted farmers here.


  2. homepaddock says:

    We’ve seen a little of that here where grapes have replaced sheep in some parts of Central and North Otago and Canterbury.

    But it’s not just the steepness of the land but the climate and type and quality of the soil which dictates what can be grown well. Availability and cost of labour are also a consideration.


  3. Fairfacts Media says:

    Yet another nail in the coffin of the eco-fascists.
    All along they have got it wrong.
    From the biofuels that destroys rainforest and causes starvation, to the windmills (whose raw materials pollute China) and kill birds and destroy countryside, yet offer little or no carbon saving.
    Warmism is nothing but a con, demanding government intervention, a protection of vested interests and taxpayer support.
    It confirms the Greens are nothing but watermelons and eco-fascists for supportuing such nonsense when these warmist policies are so damaging and contradictory.


  4. robertguyton says:

    Perhaps I should have said, a lot of land that is “suitable for grazing animals” isn’t suitable for grazing animals, just as a lot of rivers that are “suitable for trout” aren’t suitable for trout.
    This statement from you is nonsense also, Ele,
    ” The report doesn’t go into the environmental and economic impact or animal welfare concerns of killing all the farm animals if their pasture was converted to crop land.”

    No-one, except those clowns Slater and Farrar, are so dim as to believe that animals would be slaughtered en masse were a change to be sought over land-use. Clearly, herds and flocks would be reduced by attrition and animals not replaced by breeding more or buying in. That sort of scaremongery from you weakens you argument immensely.


  5. Viv says:

    Where exactly in the report does the UN describe NZ as having a very efficient food production system? Grain fed British lamb may have twice the carbon footprint of pasture fed NZ lamb, that doesn’t justify keeping agriculture as a whole out of the ETS.


  6. homepaddock says:

    If you changed from pastoral farming to cropping by attrition you’d almost certainly go broke in the process.

    Would anyone be concerned that farm animals would become endangered species? We might then see campaigns to save the sheep.


  7. homepaddock says:

    I haven’t time to find the relevant quote (am making meringues – 400 down, 300 to go). But the Daily Mail to which I link above says: “The study claims Britain, for instance, would be better off importing lamb from New Zealand which has been produced more efficiently than on its own farms.”


  8. Viv says:

    Wow that’s a lot of meringues! Makes the 3 dozen muffins I should be doing look pretty lame. The Daily mail is not a greatly reliable reference source in my opinion. Apart from zooming round on quads, sheep farmers do appear to have a fairly low carbon footprint. I see the new substations needed for the power to run the irrigation schemes for dairy farms, I know diesel milk tankers drive millions of kms a week, I hear Fonterra has it’s own coal mine, it wants to use fossil fuel to run the plants that make milk powder. If this is a very efficient food production system, then I’m worried


  9. robertguyton says:

    Viv’s point about Fonterra’s use of coal is a very good one. The enormous amounts of electricity required also. Furthermore, the rapidly escalating quantities of imported feeds for cattle is changing the ‘food miles’ formula. It may suit to highlight the lamb ‘report’ but when the spotlight falls on milk, it ain’t going to reveal a pretty picture.
    The conversion from stock to crop would not be the crisis you claim, Ele. Farmers and croppers are clever people. They’d find a way.


  10. The original “Food Miles” comparison report can be found here:

    Lamb production comparison is on page 92

    NZ dairy production was also found, in that report, to be more efficient than that of the UK – page 61


  11. robertguyton says:

    No figures for methane, nitrous oxide and none for coal use?
    Nevertheless, it’s good news that those industries are better than those in the UK. Could be though, that theirs is very, very bad and ours only very bad. Efficiency is a relative term, whereas climate disruption/degradation could be disastrous, whether arrived at quickly or very quickly.


  12. TraceyS says:

    But do these countries have the same problem with gorse that we have in many parts of New Zealand? Grazing animals are an integral part of managing the problem. And if you’re trying to farm organically you haven’t got a shit show of keeping on top of it without sheep.

    Have you ever personally tried to grow a crop, cereal for example, on marginal land in a marginal climate? We have. One year we harvested 10t of barley off a small block – enough to feed our chickens for two years. This was lovely and made us ‘feel’ very self-sufficient. But the next year the crop failed entirely because it was too wet. Gone back to animals. Suppose we’re just not inventive and far sighted enough! But there are big, real, practical differences between ideology and reality.


  13. robertguyton says:

    ‘Farming organically’ doesn’t preclude using grazing animals for gorse control, Tracey. I grow lots of crops in what many might consider a marginal climate – I live on the south coast of the South island 🙂 Your second experience at growing barley was unsuccessful you say, and that was disappointing, but there are other crops that chickens will eat, crops that aren’t as fickle as the modern barley. Don’t give up on inventiveness and far-sightedness! Get back on that horse. Also, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. That’s a useful proverb.


  14. cecilia says:

    Very good post and brilliant feedback from your commenters.. an enormous subject, i have a tiny farm in the middle of the corn belt in the midwest, i am from NZ. all i know is that out here if i want to eat good food I have to grow it .. so I do.. we eat like kings.. eating imported food sounds crazy! c


  15. Captain Fantastic says:

    Cropping leads inevitably to depletion of the soils faster. Losses from wind erosion, it hammers earthworms, requires huge amounts of nitrate, (in Southland this fact has not been understood yet), chemical applications, (there are serious doubts about the safety of some “safe” chemicals). Animal production builds soil.
    The most dangerous thing to contemplate is serious decisions being made by control freaks who think that they know all the answers and want to rule everyone, yet are inexperienced, know little or are driven by odd philosophy or bees in their bonnets.


  16. robertguyton says:

    What nonsense, Captain Fantastic. Perhaps the ‘cropping’ you are familiar with leads to those environmental degradations but that just shows that those conventional practices are poor. Sustainable cropping has been practiced for thousands of years in some parts of the world to no adverse effect – all it takes is a different approach to that taken here in New Zealand. You are making claims from a position of ignorance, in my opinion.


  17. Captain Fantastic says:

    Well thats your opinion. I haven’t got time but have a look at Google searching “wind erosion in New Zealand”. In my book soil is valuable and irreplacable. Go figure.


  18. TraceyS says:

    “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” (Darwin). Robert you come across as more confident but yet you don’t seem to listen to those who have experience. You can’t just take one system and overlay it upon another and expect everything to work hunky-dory. If it were that easy we’d all be doing it already. I love the idea of those Asian terraced systems and that “looks” like it could work on our steep farm. But where is the cheap labour going to come from? Or else who is going to be able to afford the expensive produce? What about the regulatory system – will it be on your side if you need to build dams or other structures in order to innovate? It’s a romantic vision, but not realistic.


  19. robertguyton says:

    Opinions are what blogs are for, Captain. It’s a shame you can’t find the time to research serious issues like erosion. I do. That said, your ‘soil is valuable’ chapter is in my book also! Your ‘and irreplaceable’ bit is confusing though, given that you said: “Animal production builds soil.” I guess it is possible to replace lost soil, yes?


  20. robertguyton says:

    I seem to come across as “more confident”, Tracey? Should I instead go for a more “apologetic” delivery, as befits someone from a minority group? Your opening quote implies that you think I am ignorant. I believe I know what I’m talking about and contrary to your claim that I don’t listen to those who have experience, I am busy discussing these matters with farmers and growers on a regular basis. I’m not without experience myself either and wonder if you have had any experience with farming systems other than the conventional. You say ” If it were that easy we’d all be doing it already. ” but I find that to be nonsense. Firstly, I didn’t say it would be easy, I said it would not be the crisis Ele claims it would be. There’s a difference. Secondly, taking the easy route is often not the best way. Fossil fuel availability makes conventional farming easy, but has serious long-term downsides, not the least being the ruination of the climate that enables successful farming. Urea is ‘easy’ but not sustainable. Just look at the nitrate issues it has already created. The reliance on the ‘easy’ makes us complacent.
    Ploughing is just one aspect that illustrates the differences in our (plus that of captain F.). Fossil fuels enable mass ploughing, mass ploughing exposes huge areas of soil to be exposed to the sun and wind, both of which ‘steal’ soil. A more careful regime prevents that. I’m proposing more careful regimes and you claim I’m romanticising and CF says I have an odd philosophy. You both sound hide-bound.


  21. Richard says:

    Robert, one of the reasons NZ is more successful is lack of subsidies that sustains European agriculture. As for your Asian example, yes, very impressed when I was in Hong Kong. But quickly realised that it was farming for subsistence. Quite a different story here.


  22. robertguyton says:

    Richard, yes, that is one of the reasons. As for Asian agricultural practices, I’m not promoting them per se, I was saying that there are other ways of managing marginal land and Asia has many of them. NZ agriculturalists will develop their own. We don’t have to stay stuck in conventional/historical patterns. This idea is being poo-pooed here. I suspect fear is behind the reticence to discuss alternatives.


  23. Captain Fantastic says:

    Animal production puts humus in soil. Hence “builds soil.” Not really a joke, but a fact. Soil is sand, silt & clay. The essential ingredient is the organic matter. The carbon bit .It is the carbon that makes the difference between desert & soil. Quite frankly paddy fields and terraces anr not for NZ.


  24. homepaddock says:

    Thanks for dropping by.

    Eating imported food might sound crazy but not everything grows everywhere and some things grow better in other places than close to home.


  25. Roger Barton says:

    Do paddy fields produce methane? If so how does this fit alongside the asian countries contribution to Global warming? Do they account for it and are they meeting their obligations?
    I note Bruce Wills recent comments that none of his extensive plantings are taken into account regarding carbon credits. Likewise none of our 243 hectares of QE2 makes any acknowledged contribution. 13 ha we developed out of rocks some years ago can now be soil tested with a 4 inch core soil testing tool where as in the inital stages we had to secure a soil sample with the use of a crowbar. Just proves that livestock and prudent pasture management can enhance soil carbon… not that we bother accounting for it on a national basis… too busy telling ourselves that we are doing nothing!


  26. cecilia says:

    Oh I know, I try so hard not to but sometimes a pineapple or a banana calls to me and coffee how could we do without coffee. !


  27. homepaddock says:

    But what’s the problem with trade? The people who sell pineapples, bananas and coffee can’t eat all they produce, we can’t produce those things at all so buy from them. We produce some things they can’t and they buy from us.


  28. robertguyton says:

    But what’s the problem with trade…?
    Are you genuinely unaware of the criticisms of the kind of trade we have now, Ele? Unaware of what the arguments are?


  29. robertguyton says:

    Quite frankly, no-one suggested they were. From that (rice) straw, you built a man!
    Animals great and small ‘build soil’. They don’t have to be cloven-hoofed – fact.


  30. cecilia says:

    you are right.. thats why i would never contemplate doing without coffee.. c


  31. robertguyton says:

    Roger – National have made a complete balls-up of the carbon trading opportunities for New Zealand foresters and for that they should be ashamed.


  32. homepaddock says:

    Not unaware but the criticisms I’ve seen are long on emotion and short on fact.


  33. robertguyton says:

    Then you’ve not looked dispassionately at the question of trade, free trade, fair trade and so on, Ele. There are very well considered essays that you’d benefit from studying. The present system is not the only valid way and is in many ways just like the Government’s approach to monetary policy – myopic and out-of-step with modern thinking. The Green proposals around necessary change have provoked much-needed debate and revealed National’s ‘quaint’ beliefs for what they are 🙂


  34. TraceyS says:

    Your example of ploughing is not a very good one. Ploughing, done properly, just turns over the turf and allows the plant matter on top to rot down quickly underneath thereby building up organic matter. I think you might be referring to the processes that happen after ploughing. But that just proves my point – we’re all ignorant to a degree Robert. It’s just that some people cannot see it so well in themselves. People who have greater knowledge also tend to know the boundaries of their own ignorance better and therefore, are less confident. That is what Darwin meant. “Discussing” is not the same as thing as “listening”. Better still would be to have a go a conventional farming yourself and then try and change it from that position. That way you would be having to confront ALL the issues head-on. Such as Ele suggested, trying to stay profitable through the transition. I don’t actually have a lot of direct conventional farming experience. Came to it late and challenge everything we do with a very open mind. In the end you get to realise that a mix of different systems is necessary. Therefore I’d love to hear in detail the “careful regimes” you are proposing along with how this could work as a business model.


  35. robertguyton says:

    Tracey – ploughing exposes soil to the air and sunlight. Immediately that happens, ultravoilet light begins to oxidise the carbon that has accumulated in the soil and changes it to gas, which naturally enough, leaves. This depletes the soil of carbon and carbon in soil is a very good thing. Losing it is not. I don’t see how you can think that ploughing soil is not a good example of what I was trying to say. Again with the ‘ignorant’, Tracey! Goodness, seems you think I’m thick as batshit!


  36. TraceyS says:

    Sorry – wasn’t being facecious. I am genuinely interested in what your alternative proposals are for a “more careful regime”. Happy to admit I have a lot to learn to reduce my own level of ignorance!


  37. Roger Barton says:

    Rabbits build soil to do they RG? I’d be happy to run animals other than cloven hoofed ones if it was a means of paying my rates and earning an income. This old bit of riverbed I refered to in my earlier post is a bit unforgiving but does livestock production quite well now. LOTS of lime and even earthworm transplants in the early days. That should appeal to you Robert!


  38. homepaddock says:

    Robert @ 3:57 – if it’s not free trade it’s not fair trade.


  39. robertguyton says:

    Ele – nonsense. Free trade is not fair trade.


  40. homepaddock says:

    Free trade might not be fair to the politicians and bureaucrats who wield power through trade restrictions but it’s fair to producers and consumers.


  41. robertguyton says:

    The key to sustainable agriculture, Tracey, is biodiversity. Is biodiversity top of your priority list?


  42. […] Buy NZ lamb to save planet – UN ( […]


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