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Can red meat be part of a green future?

COP25 Report


Madrid, SPAIN – December 8, 2019: 8pm (PEJN): New Zealand’s NZD9 billion dollar industry, employing around 30,000  workers across beef, lamb and deer exports, has taken some heat at the global climate conference in Madrid.

In a Pacific Pavilion panel event, Fiji diplomat and United Nations special envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson urged listeners- most of them from the Pacific where NZ canned corned beef products are popular — to rethink meat while taking aim at New Zealand’s beef and lamb industry.

While sharing his own journey away from meat, Thomson challenged attendees at the Moana Pavilion side event to consider ‘flexitarian’ choices and take individual action to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Fellow panellists including New Zealand’s Ambassador on Climate Change, Kay Harrison did not respond to his challenge to the audience for individual actions to be just as ambitious and urgent as the COP25 call for more ‘ambitious’ national actions to address the world’s climate emergency.

Touching on the looming deadlines facing all signatories to the Paris Agreement on national actions to contribute to the 1.5 degree limit, he said New Zealand didn’t seem to know what it was doing with it’s meat industry.

Post panel, Thomson made no apologies for being upfront with his views, saying the science around 1.5 and the best current medical and scientific advice is pointing to a coming shift in dietary habits for humanity.

Thomson says flexitarian diets based around plants are signalling the movement away from red meat.

“I’m not saying ‘give up that can of corned beef and the palusami (taro leaves in cream)– I’m just saying ‘do it less often, reduce your consumption of red meat, ” Thomson said.

Meat processing in New Zealand

“You don’t have to do what my wife and I have done and give it up entirely. I really miss it, but I love my grandchildren more than I love beef and unfortunately lamb has gone the same way for the same reason.

“I know that sounds like I’m the enemy of New Zealand when I say that but the fact is that we have  in New Zealand great capacity for growing all the foods required for the flexitarian diet.”

The UN special envoy on Oceans says it’s not just New Zealand who has to step up on action to save the biodiversity of the planet, but all other countries as well.

“Plenty of people who are speaking loud but still driving round in big fancy cars …this is about change, radical change of our production and consumption patterns, and our habits. It’s not for other people to do, it’s for all of us to do.”

But Kay Harrison, who’s been leading New Zealand presence on Pacific side event panels at COP 25, says New Zealand’s vision for the future of the food system is one that is sustainable.

Harrison, New Zealand’s Climate Change Ambassador, noted via email the country’s Climate Response Act sets a specific target to reduce emissions of biogenic methane, likely to be a world first when it comes to an absolute reduction target for biogenic methane.

“We work with our farmers and with other countries and their farmers to continuously improve the way in which we produce food,” she noted.

New Zealand also puts NZ$10 million every year into agricultural mitigation research  in New Zealand and almost the same amount into a global research supporting research projects to deliver emissions reductions.

The sector has long felt — and responded to — increasing  pressure as New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern ensured the  Zero Carbon legislation would line up with her messaging at COP 25.

But implementing targets and numbers has meat industry bosses and the farmers that supply them on the domestic front concerned and hoping for a research breakthrough.

Meat industry officials have argued they have done all they could, managing their livestock more efficiently to deliver higher value.

Farmers have already been given wriggle room in the Zero Carbon legislation, but are concerned the timeframes are adding too much pressure to a sector that is already as pro zero carbon as it can be while still delivering profits and keeping New Zealand working.

In the last week, New Zealand Beef and Lamb has launched a report aimed at dealing with the new consumer conversations around meat, and the impact on market strategy.

Industry boss Sam McIvor is confident the report will help NZ continue to enjoy  leadership in supplying global demand for red meat. The report identifies the need to get on top of and manage tech disruptions, climate change, changing trade patterns and the place of meat in a healthy and green food culture.

“Many New Zealand farmers have already taken steps to reduce their emissions,” says Harrison, “farmers don’t just want to safeguard their businesses; they are also aware of the need to maintain and protect New Zealand’s reputation as an environmentally sustainable nation.”

  • Our Pacific Environment Journalists Network (PEJN)s independant reporting from COP25 has been made possible with travel support from a multi-stakeholder project helping Pacific nations walk their climate ambition talk towards a 1.5 future. Google  #PacificNDCHub for details. Find out more on what your Pacific nation is doing to walk the climate talk from the Senior Technical  Adviser of the SPC/GIZ Coping with Climate Change in the Pacific program, christine.fung@giz.de

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