31 Aug 2020

Red meat sector issues pointers for politicians

8:18 am on 31 August 2020

The red meat sector has given political parties a sharp reminder of what they must do to maintain the industry's economic strength, and say unbalanced climate change mitigation could threaten productive farmland.

50344317 - grilled beef steak with rosemary, salt and pepper on cutting board

Photo: 123RF

The recommendations included not allowing fossil fuel users who emit carbon dioxide to get a free ride off the forestry sector and risk smothering farmland.

Another was to establish better water storage systems to prepare for dehydrated conditions made worse by climate change.

These and other comments are contained in a new publication, the New Zealand Red Meat Report.

It was put out jointly by the Meat Industry Association and Beef + Lamb NZ.

The report pointed out several strengths of the red meat sector which it said politicians should bear in mind. These included creation of over 92,000 jobs, and nearly $12 billion in industry value added each year.

The researchers behind this figure looked at what would happen if the industry were to disappear.

"(They) projected a doubling of the unemployment rate, and a substantial fall in net central government revenue from the loss of personal and corporate taxation revenue.

"(Combined with) increased expenditure on social welfare and health, (this would cost ) up to $1.6 billion," they wrote.

The report emphasised the risk to productive farmland from current policies on climate change.

This was based on the view that people could continue to pump out carbon dioxide from exhaust pipes for decades and rely on trees to soak it all up. They said this would only encourage the rapid spread of forestry over farmland.

"Research by the Parliamentary Commission for the Environment last year forecast 5.4 million hectares of land would be converted into forest before 2050 as a result of proposed policies, the report said.

"It recommended halting all forestry offsets for fossil fuel emitters in order to drive real reductions in fossil fuel emissions, rather than sacrificing productive pastoral land to tree plantations to enable these emissions to continue at current levels.

"We call on the government to work with the sector to limit offsets before too much damage has been done."

The report also called for better water storage.

Some aspects of the report were very positive, especially the way the industry coped with Covid-19.

This was despite the threat from disrupted supply chains and lower consumption at shut-down restaurants overseas.

"Despite this turmoil, the fundamentals for New Zealand red meat remain strong," it said.

"Our analysis of consumers indicates that demand for natural, grass-fed red meat has increased as a result of Covid-19.

"New Zealand's total red meat exports have remained virtually unchanged throughout the Covid-19 crisis."

The meat processing sector was also able to cope with Covid by spacing out its workers on the chain - though this also slowed production.

But there was an extra negative - continuing uncertainty about trading rights as the Brexit countdown ticks towards its deadline at the end of the year.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs