NZ meat has opportunity within a changing world

New Zealand meat has an opportunity within a changing world, where a dietary change towards a healthy diet and food waste reduction has to play a role in order to limit global warming to two degrees, according to speakers at the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Conference in Palmerston North at the end of April.

Dr Andy Reisinger. Photo NZAGRC (photographer Graeme Brown)The global community needs to take action now in order to limit warming to two degrees was the clear message from Dr Andy Reisinger, NZAGRC deputy director (international).

He said agriculture has already been reducing its GHG emissions by farming more efficiently and, if best practice was adopted by all farmers, this could make further significant reductions. More efficient farming also reduces emissions per unit of product.. However, this alone will not decrease total emissions, he said, adding that new technologies can be employed to drop emissions from agriculture production.

In addition, reducing the current volume of global food waste – which he said was 30-40 percent of the total grown – and promoting dietary shifts towards grain from meat could provide potentially large gains.

Professor Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen. Photo NZAGRC (photographer Graeme Brown)This was backed up in a presentation from Professor Pete Smith, the University of Aberdeen’s professor of soils and global change, who said the data clearly shows there are big differences in the GHG intensities of different foods.

The emissions from the production of meat and growing vegetables out of season in greenhouses are significantly higher than those from producing pulses, for example, he said.

Considering the demand side of the equation, and modelling what would happen to total agricultural GHG emissions if there were significant dietary changes, is a growing area of research with a number of recent high profile papers. According to Professor Smith, these all indicate that fewer animal products in global diets would allow everyone on the planet to be fed and leave more land available for energy and nature conservation.

He said that current practices need reform and noted that relying exclusively on sustainable intensification will still not reduce GHG to the extent required without addressing the demand side issues of food waste and a move to a healthy diet. Both have a very central role, he believes.

Professor Smith considers that the meat industry, including here in New Zealand, has an opportunity to provide high-quality, grass-fed meat to fill a niche for a future society, which eats meat in a healthy diet as a more occasional, luxury and high premium treat.

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