Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough
History will not repeat itself for the red meat sector
History will not repeat itself for one of this country’s major economic sectors, but it is important to not dismiss the lessons of history when looking to the future.
This is what’s at stake.
The red meat sector, worth $12 billion to the NZ economy in the year to this June, is vitally important to the NZ economy. It holds a high reputation for not only feeding people around the world with a high-quality, basic, nutrient – protein. It also employs more than 90,000 and supports families of farm and processor workers in their rural communities, along with the companies servicing those communities and the sector.
The New Zealand Meat Board (NZMB) currently oversees $2.3b of red meat exports to the quota markets of the European Union, United Kingdom and United States. It also has responsibility for $82.2 million of farmer reserves.
This provides crucial funding to assist in major industry crisis to re-open export markets, maintain a prudent level of net assets to avoid jeopardising quota markets and the integrity of quota management systems and to deliver funding for industrygood activities such as genetics.
The board’s duties will expand even further with NZMB taking on responsibility for the administration of the transitional Free Trade Agreement quotas between the UK and New Zealand once the deal is ratified by both countries.
Last year, to mark the centenary of the
New Zealand Meat Board and its affiliate organisations, Mick Calder and I had the privilege of writing up the history of the
New Zealand red meat sector from 1997 to 2022. Meeting Change traces a 25-year period full of massive change, challenge and passion.
From page one to the end, our chapters traced the development of the sector: business, trade policy and market access, R&D and innovation, development of new markets and a changing culture, amongst other things. Defying its critics, we found the sector came together to grow sustainably.
There was plenty to celebrate by the end of all the change, innovation and new thinking. What emerged was a more sustainable sector, with more produced from less on a third less land. There are now better efficiencies, heavier lamb carcases, more meat produced per hectare and red meat export earnings have doubled from a more diverse range of markets, amongst other things.
The final result, we believe, is a great platform for the future 25 years.
There were difficult times along the way, there is no doubt. Legislative and structural change in the early 1990s and 2000s produced polarised opinions that were argued vehemently by the different parties and many in-depth reports.
This is another of those fractious times. But what a travesty it will be, if all that has been achieved is put at risk.
The sector recognised the need to address environmental concerns and climate change. That is why it was a founder and partner in the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium from the early 2000s. It was also why it joined with other sectors in the He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership in 2019 to find a way forward and produce a carefully balanced proposal for pricing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, which would ensure farm and industry viability.
It is no easy task to reduce emissions from livestock – it requires new understanding of the issues, new science and time to make sure the new technologies are safe for the animals and humans too.
The Government’s meaningful changes to the original HWEN emissions pricing proposal have unbalanced it in the process, unfairly impacting sheep, beef and deer farmers the hardest. There is much anger at the farmgate, as a result. The sector now has the opportunity for all to address the parts at fault – especially around pricing, governance, sequestration and more – through rational argument in submissions on the areas of concern.
History has shown, despite difficult times, the sector can pull it together. Much work has already been done.
Government needs to give the sector a chance to make the leap to the new postcrisis world.
Ali Spencer is the co-author of Meeting Change, The New Zealand Red Meat Story.