With fashionable vegan hamburger patties making headlines around the world, it might seem our farmers' goose is cooked.

The decline of meat consumption would certainly be a worrying prospect for New Zealand's $10 billion red meat industry. If it was happening.

But it isn't, at least not anytime soon.


In fact, the global appetite for meat continues to rise steadily. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has forecast a 15 per cent rise in meat consumption between 2017 and 2027. It also predicts a 20 per cent increase in the global meat trade.

The media's focus on meat consumption tends to be very much pointed at lifestyle trends in developed, health conscious, Western countries.

It largely ignores the enormous economic impact of rising wealth in Asia and Africa.
As middle classes emerge and grow in these regions so too does demand for meat and dairy.

While it's true that recent health studies have charred red meat's image, the opposite has been true for our most lucrative animal protein export.

The FAO notes that Dairy demand in developed countries has been shifting for several years towards butter and dairy fat and away from substitutes based on vegetable oil.
This has been due to a "more positive health assessment of dairy fat and a change in taste".

As incomes and populations increase, and diets become more globalised, more dairy products are expected to be consumed in developing countries. By 2027, per capita dairy consumption is expected to rise 4.4 per cent in developed countries and a staggering 23 per cent in developing nation.

This all good news for New Zealand farmers - although as Hollywood director turned Wairarapa farmer James Cameron pointed out this week - we can't afford to ignore the environmental impact of animal farming.

At a conference in New Plymouth this week the director of Avatar and Titanic urged New Zealand to move away from animal farming because of its role causing climate change and imminent decline.

Cameron is right that New Zealand's farmers will have a part to play in reducing our carbon emissions and hitting targets set in the in the Zero Carbon Bill introduced to Parliament this week.

Those targets are worrying the meat industry which says they are in excess of scientific advice and make agriculture an economic scapegoat. There's no doubt they are ambitious and to hit them farmers wil need all the help they can get.

The entire meat and dairy industry is working hard to move its production up the value chain. A shift from ever-growing export volumes to higher quality markets is a shared policy goal that all parties can agree on.

But, while the rise of plant-based protein has all the advantages of modern science on its side, our farmers do not.

The Impossible Burger - a burger patty made from 100% vegetable ingredients. Photo / Supplied
The Impossible Burger - a burger patty made from 100% vegetable ingredients. Photo / Supplied

One point often lost in the hype about the fake-meat Impossible Burger is it's grown with a genetically engineered yeast. Federated farmers points out that emissions from cattle could be reduced massively and rapidly if New Zealanders could accept new genetically engineered strains for rye grass.

Yet many of the same people who urge sceptics to accept the weight of scientific evidence around climate change - refuse to do the same when it comes to genetic modification.

When the Green Party blindly refuses to consider these options, it undermines its position on science-based policy.