Friday, December 1, 2023

Climate lessons not good enough

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Climate change teaching guidelines designed by the Education Ministry have been heavily criticised by farming leaders for not telling the whole story when it comes to agriculture’s carbon footprint. 
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While they back the concept of Climate Change – prepare today, live well tomorrow in teaching climate change to students, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb and Federated Farmers say it has taken farming’s impact out of context. 

It was jointly released by Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

The resource, aimed at students aged seven to 10 suggests they have a meatless day at least once a week as a way of mitigating the effects of climate change.

It said red meat and dairy production create significantly more greenhouse gas emissions and use more water than production of chicken meat, fruit, vegetables and cereals.

And it suggests children and buy only local food to reduce emissions and help the economy, a claim Federated Farmers climate change spokesman Andrew Hoggard calls simplistic. 

“It ignores the environmental footprint of the producers and is counter to the interests of New Zealand as a major exporter of food.

“Per kilogram of protein, produce from NZ farmers can reach consumers in most parts of the world with a lower greenhouse gas/environmental footprint than is achieved by many local producers.”

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said it tells only part of the story.

“We’re not arguing that it’s factually incorrect, we’re just disappointed that it doesn’t have more context for some of the reasons why we are so high in our food and fibre emissions.” 

It is further evidence of a growing trend where children are being targeted with information on agriculture’s climate footprint without the full story.

He cited the recent controversy over Te Papa dying water brown and saying it came from a dairy farm.

“Now you’ve got this and what’s wrong with this is there is not enough context there as to why NZ’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are high.

 “Our emissions are so high per capita because we export so much food to so many people around the world.”

 There is also no mention of how efficient NZ farmers are in producing dairy products compared to other dairy producing countries, he said.

“No one is going to dispute that food and fibre’s emissions make up half of our emissions – we get that – but people don’t understand why we produce enough food calorifically for 40-50 million people and when it comes to dairy, 150-200m people.”

The resource might see DairyNZ introduce more of a climate focus to its dairy education programme that targets schools.

It shows a disconnect with farming from whoever in the Government put the guidelines together rather than it deliberately targeting agriculture.

 “One would hope this is an oversight rather than a personal agenda but it needs to improve and it’s not good enough.”

He also questioned whether it is sensible for the Education Ministry to be giving dietary guidelines to 11-15-year-old children.

B+LNZ nutrition head Fiona Windle said the recommendation to reduce meat and dairy consumption comes with no framework as to what represents a healthy diet.

“While reduce meat and dairy is a popular soundbite to roll out, the implications on our youngest and most impressionable in society could be far-reaching and detrimental.”

However, Health Ministry public health director Dr Caroline McElnay said the ideas in the resource are not inconsistent with its food and nutrition for young people.

“The guidelines suggest that if your serving size is 150g cooked (about 175g raw) a day it means you could eat red meat three times each week and still be within the recommended level.”

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