New Zealand’s economic prosperity relies heavily on agriculture, especially animal agriculture. We farm over 30 million sheep, seven million dairy cows and four million cattle. Over one hundred million meat chickens, three million egg laying hens and 800,000 pigs live on factory farms. We also export live animals, mainly dairy cattle to a number of countries.
Animals and their products contribute around 25 billion per year to New Zealand’s economy. The government has plans to double its earnings from the agriculture sector by 2025.
Over many decades the expansion of animal farming has transformed New Zealand’s landscape. Where once stood tall forest, we now see grassy hills. This deforestation led to many bird species becoming extinct or endangered. Dairy farms are one of the leading causes of water degradation with most rivers unsafe to swim in.
Animal suffering is immense, especially for animals living in factory farms as they are denied their natural behavior and live in extreme confinement. More than two million unwanted new born dairy calves are killed at only four days old.
New Zealand has a very high rate of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. High consumption of animal protein is one of the main causes of these and other diseases.
SAFE has campaigned for animals for many decades. The focus of the last 15 years has been on factory farming as this type of farming causes the greatest amount of suffering. Factory farming is now disapproved of by a majority of the population but successive governments have been slow to act. SAFE had two notable victories in its factory farming campaign. Sow stalls for pigs have been banned and conventional battery hen cages are being phased out.
While still actively campaigning against factory farming practices, SAFE believes that New Zealand needs a completely different economic model, one that does not rely on income derived from animals.
Concern around the world is increasing about the environmental and animal welfare impact of farming. This has seen large companies investing vast amounts of money in research and development of lab grown or plant based ‘meat’ products. A number of these companies predict that they will have their products ready for the commercial market within just a few years. In New Zealand, Sunfed Meats have launched a mock chicken product that has pea protein as its base. This product is considered by many to be indistinguishable from real chicken meat.
There is every reason to believe that these companies will be able to produce plant based meats that taste good, are cost effective, environmentally and animal friendly. Should this be the case, then New Zealand agriculture in its current form will be in deep trouble.
New Zealand has a reputation about innovation in the agricultural sector. It is paramount that New Zealand is at the forefront of this new plant based meat development so that our farmers have something to turn to when demand for animal meat inevitably diminishes. If not, this country will face dire economic consequences.
In the short term, it is predicted that demand for New Zealand’s animal agriculture products will stay strong, especially from Asian countries. This will not last however as these countries are also increasingly looking for environmentally sustainable food sources. A number of countries that buy New Zealand products struggle to produce meat protein themselves due to a lack of infra structure, land or water resource. They will however be able to mass produce plant based or laboratory grown meat without any problems and will no longer need countries like New Zealand to provide animal products for them.
SAFE will continue to educate New Zealand society about the plight of factory farmed animals as these animals need our help now and society appears ready to move away from factory farmed products. SAFE recently convinced Countdown to phase out the sale of cage eggs, a move that will see around 400,000 hens freed from cages.
SAFE will increase its focus on a plant based diet, especially encouraging society to switch to plant based meats. We believe that the sale of these products will overtake animal meat within the next decade or two. This would have great benefits for our environment, farmed animals and human health. Provided New Zealand positions itself at the forefront of this development, plant based meats will also provide our farmers and indeed our nation with a secure future.
Written by Hans Kriek, SAFE Ambassador
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