Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier has taken aim at the concept of "food miles" ahead of a meeting between the dairy co-operative and Tesco, the UK's biggest retailer.
Food miles is the popular term to describe how far produce travels when assessing its environmental impact.
"Food miles is a very simplistic way of looking at any product's carbon footprint and it is one that has traction in a number of countries, particularly Europe - and the UK is a big one," Ferrier told a breakfast meeting of the Employers and Manufacturers Association in Auckland.
Tesco announced earlier this year it would radically cut its reliance on air transport to import produce, as well as introduce labelling for shoppers to compare carbon costs in an effort to combat climate change.
However, Ferrier said food miles should only be part of the equation, and that it was important to consider a product's total carbon impact.
British media have recently targeted Fonterra over the long distances travelled by its products.
However, Ferrier said the dairy giant's products had a smaller "carbon footprint" than those of some of its northern hemisphere competitors, even counting the pollution caused by transporting them around the world.
"In the global focus around 'carbon totality' our sense is that they will move to that total footprint view and we'll actually do reasonably well."
Ferrier, head of the world's biggest exporter of dairy products, said food miles didn't capture other carbon costs such as the use of heated indoor milking sheds common among northern hemisphere dairy farmers. "[If] you look at the carbon footprint of dairy producers in northern Europe versus New Zealand, the carbon footprint of New Zealand products is lower."
Although a Fonterra spokesman said much of the dairy giant's exports were not flown but shipped, competitors such as Dairy Crest have sought to discredit New Zealand produce for that mode of transport too.
"[The concept of food miles] was invented by some competitors of ours who decided they had a clever way of making their butter look better than our butter," Ferrier said.
However, he said such tactics had not had a "material impact" on the growth of Anchor butter in the UK.