Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Ethical food production is our story to tell

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New Zealand in a unique position to achieve net zero and keep our competitive edge.
Emma Blom, sponsored by Farmers Weekly publisher AgriHQ to attend the Oceania 2035 summit, encountered world-leading thinking on climate issues, and fresh interest from venture capitalists. Photo: Emma Blom/Instagram
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By Emma Blom, Lincoln University student and AgriHQ cadet

Over the two-day 2035 Oceania summit, 50 speakers from all over the world addressed localised challenges and global responsibility towards the climate crisis in an atmosphere that mixed world-leading thinking with science, politics, and innovation – and created a compelling ideology around climate change and our future.

There is a strong value in being net zero and as a nation New Zealand is in a unique position to achieve this and maintain a competitive advantage around ethical food production and selling a story to our consumers. In 20 years from now, family dinners will still have meat on the table, but stiffer competition with plant-based and synthetic meat is approaching.

Australian companies such as V2 are overcoming technology hurdles to make plant-based meat cheaper, tastier, and produced at net zero. The ideal future for NZ agriculture would be to compete at this same level by adopting agri-technology to improve environmental practices.

Alice Ritchie, Tesco’s agriculture sustainability manager, highlighted the fact that consumers’ behavior is changing. Surplus cash is spent on ethical food now that quality is the new normal. Consumers care about the products our nation produces and are interested in our management practices. With industry communication, this information can be capitalised on and shared with producers to create a targeted product. Being transparent with data throughout the supply chain can benefit producers, suppliers and consumers.

Over 300,000t of food is wasted annually in NZ alone. Globally, food waste amounts to $1 trillion. We need to feed the world but we need to refine the supply chain to minimise waste. NZ is not alone. Fiji loses 30%-40% of its crop post-harvest. With inefficiencies in the system, opportunities arise for businesses. Companies such as Ecostock and Ecogas convert waste food into stock feed and gas, capitalising on the global issue. There is a great opportunity for New Zealand to reduce its 134 landfills and create a targeted waste management scheme.

A powerful presentation by chef, author and TV presenter Robert Oliver celebrated the cuisine of the South Pacific and outlined some of the region’s health challenges related to diet. A generation and a half has been exposed to processed foods, resulting in three diabetic-related amputations a day in Fiji and 75% of Pacific deaths being due to noncommunicable, or chronic, diseases.  

But consumption patterns are changing and there is growing recognition that the social responsibility to care for people, culture and climate means the Pacific islands need to make local food sexy for younger generations, creating a meaningful connection to their food because “the story of the food is the story of the people”.

The summit discussed the pressing issues that our food-producing nation is facing. What cannot be ignored is the divide in  perspectives on the issue. The government’s response to He Waka Eke Noa, announced in the summit space, made sense for progressive change towards a climate-positive country, but the uproar from farming organisations suggested the absolute opposite. Change is bound to happen but who will hold the power, thinkers or doers?

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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