EDITORIAL:

Impossible Burgers and other miracle meat substitutes have captured the public's imagination and prompted some soul searching about New Zealand's economic reliance on animal protein.

But, as today's feature read points out, even though New Zealanders eat less meat than a decade ago, global demand for meat continues to rise.

What's easy to miss amid the hype about sophisticated urban food trends is that the rise of the middle class through Asia and Africa has seen appetites for red meat soar.

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So while in New Zealand beef and lamb consumption has fallen, 38 per cent and 45 per cent respectively, in the past 10 years the trend doesn't spell doom for our $10 billion red meat industry.

In fact, 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 space in which New Zealand exporters operate.

The value of beef exports to China nearly doubled in the year ended April, according to StatsNZ.

Medium rare steak. Kiwis are eating less beef and lamb. Photo / File
Medium rare steak. Kiwis are eating less beef and lamb. Photo / File

This trend buys the industry breathing space but it should not breed complacency - particularly for those looking to the nation's long-term economic challenges.

If anything the rise of global demand adds to the challenge to produce meat more sustainably with less impact on the environment.

Not only do we need to do our bit to mitigate climate change we need to keep pushing our economy up the value chain.

The rise of Impossible Burgers simply means new competition for New Zealand meat producers.

Given the challenges that have been overcome in the industry it shouldn't alarm farmers.

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Since the UK joined the European Common Market in 1973, taking with it a safety net of guaranteed export demand, the red meat sector has embraced change. After dealing with the initial shock - it has thrived.

There's no reason to assume our farmers won't adapt to new methods of production and new consumer trends.

That doesn't mean a wholesale switch from meat to plant farming.

It just means staying open to innovation, continuing to embrace technology - and not being afraid of change.