Deforestation-free New Zealand beef?

Beef cattle

One of the biggest points of differentiation for New Zealand beef could be ‘deforestation-free’ – a new, particularly strong and growing buzz-word in sustainable beef production these days.

The rapid deforestation of the rainforests around the world, especially South America’s Amazon rainforest, by land clearance to make way for beef ranching, palm oil, soy and mineral exploitation alarms conservationists and environmentalists alike. They are worried about the impact on the planet’s ability to deal with climate change and how it affects native tribes and wildlife.

Kevin O'Grady
Kevin O’Grady, Pinnacle Quality.

But, the message that has been picked up is ‘eat less beef to protect the Amazon’, observes sustainability expert Kevin O’Grady of Pinnacle Quality.  “Not eat less beef that is produced in the Amazon. To the consumer, a message like this doesn’t differentiate,” he says.

Rhetoric like this makes it all the more important to create a clear point of difference between beef that causes deforestation and beef that doesn’t, he argues.

He recently wrote a business case for transparent reporting of deforestation risks in the New Zealand and Australian cattle industries. In that, he points out that through its forest reporting programme, the highly regarded Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) seeks reports from major companies on how they can reduce the risk of contributing to deforestation through their supply chain. Demand for CDP analysis and reporting is driven by the finance industry, whose members realise they cannot afford to be exposed to unethical or unsustainable businesses.

“Understanding complex supply chains is often difficult,” says O’Grady. “They want to know where the beef comes from. Take a company in the US using beef for manufacturing products such as burgers. How much is locally produced? How much is imported? If imported, where from?

“When a company wishes to be transparent about its deforestation risk it may also have to include reporting on its use of palm oil, soy and wood products. This makes full disclosure a difficult and complex exercise.”

He believes New Zealand’s beef producers could be capitalising on their competitive advantage, as the majority of this country’s beef cattle are raised on land that was cleared long ago.

The key is the New Zealand beef industry needs to be transparent about its deforestation impacts, he argues. “This could put it at a comparative advantage to its international counterparts, given that it has a strong claim to practices that would impress markets,” he says. “By contrast, choosing not to disclose leaves the industry vulnerable to criticism – regardless of whether that criticism is valid or not.”

It begs the question, “Why is New Zealand – given its apparent favourable position – not capitalising on the potential opportunities such as improved brand differentiation?” says O’Grady.

That question is probably being considered in the meat industry’s coming Red Meat Story, currently being prepared by Beef + Lamb NZ and the Red Meat Profit Partnership.  More news on that later.

Occasional MeatExportNZ contributor Kevin O’Grady is a sustainability consultant with Pinnacle Quality. He has experience across a wide range of industries including forestry, palm oil and wider agriculture, He spent nine years in the New Zealand meat industry, including a role as secretary of the New Zealand Beef Council and has been involved in trialling a sustainable beef standard in New Zealand. He can be contacted by email at


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