Last week, my colleague and National's spokesman for climate change, Todd Muller, called out the Government. He called them out on the deliberate narrative they are fuelling, which accuses our agriculture sector, and the farming families who underpin it, of being climate and environmental villains.
It started over a decade ago with the dirty dairying campaign, but now they have broadened their rhetoric to include all our animal food producing sectors. These voices are no longer at the extreme of our community debate, but rather at the centre of our government. Their core belief is that our future world cannot sustain animal food production and we should start weaning ourselves off animal protein in order to improve our health and the environment.
Recently Government Minister Julie-Anne Genter told hospitals that they should encourage meat and dairy free meals to save the environment, whilst our national museum Te Papa has an exhibition that recommends our kids go meat and dairy free for three days a week to contribute to a low emissions climate future.
Conversely, a couple of weeks ago an IPCC report talked about the importance of a balanced diet, which includes fruit, vegetables, grains and meat and dairy products produced by low emissions animal food production systems.
I agree with Todd Muller when he suggests it is time to move the conversation from condemnation to celebration. The fact is, New Zealand's farming systems are extremely efficient, and we lead the way in producing high quality products within a low emissions' profile. Our environmental footprint is improving as technology is matched by our farmers' willingness to adapt, change and innovate.
Our primary sector understands our reputation as a safe producer of food must be underpinned by sustainable farming practices. The sector accepts change is a constant, in fact global leadership in food production demands it.
It's not by accident that we can produce enough food to feed 40 million people globally and still be the most carbon efficient producer in the world, based on output of food compared to emissions produced.
A glass of New Zealand milk can be shipped to the next most efficient country (Ireland) to be consumed there; and it still has a lower carbon footprint than an equivalent glass of Irish milk. This shows how ahead of the curve we really are. The UK Guardian responded to the IPPC climate change report by declaring – "Eat more NZ Lamb". This message seems to have been lost on the 9th floor of the Beehive.
One final reality check. Fifty-six per cent of New Zealand's exports are food. New Zealand is a little country at the bottom of the world. We need to produce stuff to survive. Every time we buy pharmaceuticals, cars or computers from the rest of the world we need to pay for them by selling them something. As a country with a small population but a large natural resource base and a temperate climate, this tends to be food and materials, minerals or tourism. We need to change the tone of the conversation. Let's celebrate our farmers and give credit where it's due for their ability to adapt and innovate and their willingness to embrace the new future of farming. Our standard of living depends on it.
Ian McKelvie is MP for Rangitikei.