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Export food for thought

As the election campaign turns the final bend and heads down the back straight, we hear candidates from all parties promise change.

Change, they claim, for the better. Many of the changes relate to what we should be doing to reduce our carbon footprint, both individually and as a nation.

It was interesting to hear our local candidates discuss the impact of regulation on farming last week. How do we, as a successful farming nation and community, minimise the environmental impact of our economic activities? Is it through more regulation, or is there an alternative and possibly better way?

This revolves around how New Zealand as a whole does business at home and with the world. All options are increasingly, and literally, on the table.

It would be a brave local politician to question climate science in a year where every part of the country has felt some level of fallout from severe weather events. Cyclones and flooding are no longer events someone talks about as having happened once in their grandparents’ generation. The once-in-a-hundred-year flood we are now told could, technically speaking, happen every year.

Having come from one of the wettest summers in recent years, we have been warned of an unusually dry summer ahead. As a commodities-based economy, unusual climate shifts are at best unhelpful, and at worst can be catastrophic.

One thing politicians seldom mention is how New Zealand’s relative geographical isolation, sometimes a bonus, is often also a challenge, especially in relation to the cost of transporting food. On top of the challenges posed by the weather and rising transport costs, consumer attitudes are definitely shifting.

Many northern hemisphere customers of our products are becoming more aware and informed about the impact of what they buy – and eat – has on the environment.

A New Zealand glass of milk or rack of lamb clocks up many food miles and food miles are increasingly being counted by carbon-conscious consumers. Broadly, food miles are how far it is between where the food was made or grown until it reaches its final destination. Those miles are an important factor in testing the environmental impact of food, such as its carbon footprint.

Our export markets are taking closer note of where their food comes from and opting for the closer option. Why would an environmentally conscious person in London buy meat or dairy from New Zealand when there is a similar option from Europe or even the USA? New Zealand produce is high quality and some consumers buy our food solely for that reason but there is no guarantee they will continue to do so.

Food transported by road is said to produce more carbon emissions than any other form of transported food, with 60 per cent of the world’s food transport carbon emissions. Air transport is said to produce 20 per cent of food transport carbon emissions, and rail and sea about 10 per cent each.

Food miles are just one issue in a complex and developing debate. Some doubt the underlying logic of the calculations. However, there is no doubt our offshore markets are more aware of the total cost of doing business with New Zealand.

Another point to ponder as election day approaches.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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