PrimeCut: Fight for social licence taking its toll

Seeking social licence to operate

It’s the start of the season and the red meat sector’s fight for social licence to operate continues. So far, the focus has been on the big picture issues: reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, eating meat and cleaning up New Zealand’s waterways.

The newly minted agreement between Government and the primary sector on the way forward for reducing agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is to be celebrated. But it took the might of 11 primary sector organisations coming together in the Primary Sector Climate Change Coalition to propose the aptly-named He Waka Eke Noa (a Māori proverb that roughly means ‘we’re all in the same boat’) to get the government’s attention.

Will this new found co-operative spirit continue into Essential Freshwater consultation for which submissions closed last week? Time will tell:  submissions are now being prepared for review by the independent advisory panel, which will make its recommendations to Cabinet ready for final decisions on the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and National Environmental Standards for Freshwater later this year, or early in 2020.

Significant concerns have been expressed from farmers, industry bodies and bankers about what has been proposed in the consultation documentation.

The proposals are a “blunt instrument for complex water problems” the Meat Industry Association has said, calling for flexibility in the legislation to allow for local conditions while also expressing concern about the effective ban on changing land use for producers.

Beef + Lamb NZ is also “deeply concerned” by some of the analysis, including modelling suggesting 68 percent of drystock farms in Waikato/Waipa will be converned into forestry as a direct result of the proposed regulations. The proposals “undermine the viability of a low-intensity sector which supports over 80,000 jobs and generates exports of $9.1 billion a year,” B+LNZ chairman Andrew Morrison has said. Another major concern is around the use of “grandparenting” provisions restricting land-use change and flexibility within a farming system to diversify – effectively placing a straitjacket on  low emitters, including sheep and beef farmers, to mitigate against the impacts of high emitters.

The New Zealand Deer Farmers Association says the proposals undermine regional council plans and are unduly prescriptive, with each farm and region having different water quality issues that need to be addressed regionally. There is undue emphasis on resource consents and the fencing of waterways, it says.

Rural lender Rabobank has the opportunity to see into those rural businesses that will be directly affected by the proposals. It also thinks they will have a “significant impact” on the sector.

New Zealand’s food and agribusinesses have proven themselves to be resilient, innovative and adaptable, says Rabobank. “They are among the most successful and efficient food producers in the world, they are fast adaptors of new technology, they operate without subsidies and are a long distance from their main markets,” Rabobank says in its submission.

It points to the complex and demanding proposals which include more stringent nutrient bottom line requirements, new national practice standards and interim controls on land use intensification.

“The proposals also appear to underplay the significant progress many farmers and growers have already made in improving freshwater management on their properties and in stepping up their environmental sustainability practices,” Rabobank says.

However, Environment Minister David Parker’s dismissive approach to Canterbury farmers’ concerns about mental health in a Radio NZ piece last week is yet another example of our Government seemingly adrift from one of its main manufacturing and production sectors, which does recognise change is needed.

Food scientist and bioengineer Professor Frederic Leroy believes red meat is being used as a scapegoat for planetary problems, he said at this year’s Red Meat Sector Conference. It’s important to keep focused on science and evidence-based fact, rather than the emotions, he stressed.

It’s worth noting the ‘virtual’ anti-meat noise online, largely in Western markets, isn’t necessarily being replicated on the ground nor in the statistics. Global red meat demand is continuing to rise, particularly as African Swine Fever (ASF) – that has been affecting pork production in China and is suggested to have now reached North America – continues to disrupt global meat supplies.

Nearer home, independent Australian think-tank Food Frontier (funded by “philanthropy” and working alongside plant-based food group Life Health Foods) released research results from Colmar Brunton Australia last week noting that around a third of all New Zealanders were reducing meat intake to one to four times a week and just three percent were vegan or vegetarian, eating no meat at all. So, this means we have 97 percent of meat eaters in this country and those reducing intake are doing so in line with Ministry of Health guidelines. Other research from Colmar Brunton’s NZ arm earlier this year showed nine out of 10 consumers continued to eat meat here too.

All this on the back of the start of the new season with a good year behind it with new products, focus and direction. More opportunities are offered in the newly agreed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with 15 countries in our part of the globe and populated by a total of around 2.2 billion. The China-NZ free trade agreement, which has just been updated, will also streamline trade further with what is now the red meat sector’s biggest customer.

As predicted, 2019 has turned out to be a torrid and uncertain year for the sector. Being attacked at every quarter and trying to keep up with it all is exhausting and it will be taking its toll, not only on farmers where the main concern is, but also on the wider workforce and businesses.

Tempers are fraying. But take time out to stand back and really examine the issues by looking at the facts, rather than reacting to emotional triggers. Move away from the smartphones. Take time to read the paperwork properly and, more importantly, look after yourselves, your teams and each other.

This is the editorial from MeatExportNZ’s November Prime Cut newsletter. If you would like to subscribe for future issues, fill in your details in the newsletter box on the front page, or in the pop up. 

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