Dairy farmers urged to transition and produce plant-based foods

By Jessica Tyson

The agriculture sector and dairy farmers are being urged by charitable organisation Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) to transition to horticulture and produce plant-based foods instead of dairy products.

More than 20 percent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from the dairy industry, says SAFE campaigns manager Marianne Macdonald. She believes the change would be in line with Māori values and beneficial for the environment and animals.

“Māori organisations have always held strongly the belief in kaitiakitanga and this guardianship of the land and it is something that is at odds with dairy farming," says Macdonald.

She says dairy farming is very detrimental to the environment even when farmers do their best.

"The waste from those cows are unfortunately leaching through into our waterways. The only way to stop this damage to our environment is to reduce climate change is to stop dairy farming.”

Pastoral farms account for half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, much of it methane from cows and sheep flatulence. However, farms are also one of the country's largest export sectors and vital to the Māori economy.

Minister for Agriculture Damien O'Connor says the ministry is trying to help farmers with their decisions, “but we're not going to tell them what to do”.

"Farmers are running and profitable farming operations. They're not likely wanting a change in a hurry and if they are looking at changing they need to know that it’s a viable economic option, looking at environmental impacts across the country, and some may need to adapt and adopt new technologies.”

O'Connor says regulations around growing hemp and organic crops have been improved to help farmers wanting to make a transition. The government last week launched $12million in funding to assist with Māori agriculture as part of the Māori Agribusiness Extension (MABx) Programme.

“That is to bring together Māori growers and share the technology and the wisdom they have. There's also programmes to assist with marketing offshore branded products that are uniquely Māori.”

O'Connor says they will be a move towards plant-based products, but animal protein will always play a part in the economy.