Mark Patterson: Red Meat Sector goes from strength to strength

Opinion 01/08/2019

By Mark Patterson, New Zealand First Spokesperson for Primary Industries.

As the Red Meat Sector gathered in Christchurch last week for its annual conference the participants could be well pleased with what has been another record-breaking year.

The sector continues to go from strength to strength.

Recently-released data shows revenue has crossed the $10 billion threshold, up 8 percent on the previous year. This is a sector that has had to endure its share of hard times in recent decades. Such a stellar run of profitability, the best during my 30-year involvement, is very welcome.

The Conference was treated to an illuminating report by Professor Fredric Leroy of Belgium, who presented figures contradicting the popular narrative that reducing red meat consumption will somehow save the planet.

His message was very much that high quality natural grass-fed meats were both nutritious and of high provenance. Unfortunately, many figures used in analysis of the environmental footprint of red meat are not applicable to New Zealand’s farming systems, especially in relation to water used per kilo of production.

The same goes for the climate effects of New Zealand meat production. Obviously methane is a greenhouse gas, but it is a short-lived gas compared with carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuels.

The New Zealand Red Meat Sector is actually estimated to emit 30 percent less methane than it did in 1990, and much of the hundreds of thousands of hectares of native forest on private land, do not qualify for carbon credits, including QE2 covenant lands (because they are pre-1990).

In fact, some analysis suggests if all factors, including carbon sequestration from soil was included, the Red Meat Sector is close to carbon neutral now.

The Red Meat Sector is close to carbon neutral now.

Prof Leroy also went on to challenge the nutritional value and health claims made by the manufacturers of highly processed, often GMO enhanced, fake meats. There is no doubt such products are disruptors to Red Meat consumption. But it is important they are evaluated fairly and not allowed to get away with false representations when making comparisons.

Therein lies the challenge to the New Zealand Red Meat Sector. To make sure that our product can continue to be seen as a premium product with the highest level of provenance in what is an increasingly crowded market.

Yes, there is more to do in terms of environmental performance but the sector is coming off a far higher base than is often acknowledged. Judging by the mood of the conference, the sector is up for the challenge.

Mark Patterson is New Zealand First Spokesperson for Primary Industries.