Comment: Yesterday Katie Milne wrote that pastoral farmers in New Zealand have sound arguments on why consumers can tuck into the milk and meat they produce without serious qualms about global warming and health impacts. In response, Kylie Dale writes that as the world becomes aware of animal welfare issues and climate change, more Kiwis are choosing plant-based diets.

As more Kiwis crave plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, animal agriculture industries are pushing back.

Federated Farmers are lobbying for plant-based milk to be changed to 'juice' and for plant-based sausages to be called 'tubes' – but what won't change are the reasons many of us are choosing these products to begin with.

Whether it's to take action on climate change, to reap the health benefits, or to make Aotearoa kinder for animals, alternatives to animal-products are appearing in more Kiwi fridges than ever before.

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The environmental impacts of animal agriculture are extremely concerning. Raising cattle and sheep for meat and dairy contributes to 43 per cent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

Most of New Zealand's landmass has been deforested to provide pasture for livestock.

Nitrogen and pathogens from livestock urine and faeces are degrading our waterways. Many Kiwis are taking the matter into their own kitchens and making more sustainable food choices.

Thankfully, it isn't only individuals who recognise the environmental responsibility to make this dietary shift.

In a report last week, New Zealand's Ministry of Health addressed the health sector's contribution to climate damage, recommending a reduction of meat and dairy intake, advising the sector to "develop alternative patient menus and encourage plant-based diets".

Health is a key driver encouraging Kiwis to opt for plant-based alternatives to meat – and the demand has seen Kiwi-based businesses flourish.

From gourmet mushroom growers to New Zealand-grown quinoa, our very own spirulina and hemp farms.

Considering that every 90 minutes a Kiwi dies from heart disease and that we have some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes, growing more nutrient-rich plant foods can only be a good thing.

The World Health Organisation agrees. It encourages "a nutritious diet based on a variety of foods originating mainly from plants, rather than animals."

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The reason that choosing plant-based foods is right for a growing number of Kiwis is also down to the positive difference it can have on the lives of animals.

While we'd like to think we do things differently down here in NZ, in reality: hundreds of millions of animals are bred for food every year in this country and suffer immensely.

Chickens bred for meat are selectively bred to grow so fast that they struggle to support the weight of their own bodies.

Dairy cows mourn the loss of their calves, who each season are taken from them - millions being slaughtered at just a few days old.


Farrowing crates are still permitted on our pig farms, where sows are routinely caged for weeks at a time, these intelligent, social animals not even able to turn around.

New Zealand's animal agriculture industry can continue to stand by a brand that is damaging our environment and our health, causing animals to suffer – or it can benefit from the move toward kinder-alternatives to animal-based foods.

Take the world's second-largest beef, chicken and pork producer for example; Tyson Foods, who diversified into manufacturing meat alternatives made from plants.

Or massive US dairy producers Deans Foods and Danone who are milking the benefits of partnering up with companies producing plant-based milk and yoghurt.

In response to a bill submitted in the US state of Arkansas that could see a ban of the word 'meat' on plant-based foods, CEO of Tofurkey Jaime Athos summed up its irrelevance perfectly;

"When consumers choose plant-based foods, it is not because they are confused or misled, it is because they are savvy and educated about the health and environmental consequences of eating animal products."

- Kylie Dale is the Eat Kind Programme Officer at animal rights organisation SAFE.