Livestock less damaging than UN report claimed

Last updated 01:26 09/10/2008

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A blunder has seen New Zealand blamed for climate change caused by other countries, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation has acknowledged.

The FAO report, Livestock's Long Shadow, made public last year to world acclaim, states that livestock contributes 18 per cent of the global warming effect, even more than transport.

But buried in the report is the information that deforestation - mainly in the Amazonian rainforest - is included in that figure. Without it, livestock's contribution falls to less than 12 per cent.

This has been ignored in public statements made since the report's release. The most controversial was by the chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, who urged people to eat less meat.

But now one of the report's authors, Pierre Gerber, a FAO livestock policy officer, has acknowledged New Zealand's view that it was unfair to lump all countries together.

This is according to New Zealand's biggest meat company, Silver Fern Farms, whose marketing manager, Glenn Tyrrell, spoke to Dr Gerber recently.

Mr Tyrrell said Dr Gerber was critical of Dr Pachauri and others, saying they had misused the information in the report.

"But it was the FAO that had put that information out there in the first place," Mr Tyrrell said.

"He [Dr Gerber] was very open to revisiting that by publishing country-by-country greenhouse gas contribution figures."

This would show New Zealand in a good light compared with other meat-producing countries and allow consumers to make a choice of which country's meat to buy.

New Zealand does not harvest its native forests and the latest survey of foresters shows they intend to reduce deforestation of exotic trees under the emissions trading scheme.

Methane and nitrous oxide from livestock make up half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Tyrrell said Dr Gerber had surprised congress delegates when he revealed how the 18 per cent figure had been arrived at.

"It was frightening to see that New Zealand had effectively been tarred with the same brush as Brazil, which is burning the Amazon rainforests to provide pasture for cattle."

Brazilian delegates were confronted with this and asked what they were doing to prevent it. "They couldn't answer, because they are doing absolutely nothing.

`We should be able to show that there is a clear benefit, and competitive advantage for New Zealand, as a very much pasture-grass-feeding livestock-producing nation where we don't burn down rainforests and destroy the environment in order to graze our livestock," Mr Tyrrell said.

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He said Dr Gerber was keen to visit New Zealand to better understand its pastoral farming system. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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