NZ beating UK dairy farmers on emissions

OUR COWS ARE BETTER: An academic says New Zealand's dairy industry uses less than half the energy as Britain's.
OUR COWS ARE BETTER: An academic says New Zealand's dairy industry uses less than half the energy as Britain's.

Meat and dairy industries in Britain and New Zealand should be working jointly on issues such as the "carbon footprint" and energy efficiency of their produce, says a leading NZ academic.

Influential people were telling UK supermarket chains to change the positioning of meat in their aisles to reduce consumption of meat, said Professor Caroline Saunders, director of Lincoln University's agribusiness and economics research unit.

She told Parliament's primary production select committee yesterday that meat and dairy products were at risk of being thought of as "bad" because no matter which country produced them, there was a cost in terms of methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

She was speaking in the wake of a failed effort by NZ meat and wool officials to engage British farm leaders in the food miles and "carbon footprints" debate.

Thomas Binns, chairman of the livestock board of Britain's National Farmers' Union, said in Wellington on Monday that British farmers did not want to open up the food miles debate "prematurely".

Asked for an assurance that the NFU would not use a simplistic approach to food miles to attack NZ exporters, he said that the UK's major farm lobby would wait to see what formula was used to compare greenhouse gas emissions in the sector. "In that debate, we will support the British consumer," he said.

Prof Saunders was presenting a report comparing energy and greenhouse gas emissions by the NZ and UK dairy industries, expanded from an earlier report on "food miles" which showed New Zealand used less than half the energy that the UK did in producing dairy foods and getting them to market.

For each tonne of milksolids, NZ was 42 per cent more efficient, requiring 24,104 megajoules of energy, including 2030MJ/tonne for shipping the product 17,840km to the UK. The British dairy product required 57,497 MJ of energy when measured in the same way.

"The UK uses 80 per cent more fuel per tonne of milksolid than NZ does, although less electricity is used in the UK than in NZ,"' the report said. The main difference in energy use was in heavier reliance by the British farmers on concentrated feed and forage.

The new work showed that "the UK emits 3472kg of carbon dioxide per tonne of milksolids, compared to just 1371kg in NZ, including transport to the UK".

This was over two-and-a-half times the NZ emissions and the carbon dioxide figures also showed the UK produced 34 per cent more greenhouse gases per kg of milksolid, and 30 per cent more per hectare of dairy farm. The figures included methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the cows.