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Written by Fiona Greig on January 15th, 2016

GATE TO PLATE - HOW DOES OUR BEEF AND LAMB STACK UP ENVIRONMENTALLY?

fi smallThe repeated mantras, ‘Eat less meat to save the planet’ and ‘Meatless Mondays' have replaced truth over time which are completely unfounded, particularly as nutritional deficiencies of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D exist within New Zealand, all of which red meat provides.
 
As a nutritionist, I’m always intrigued to see how these mantras evolve and how they are polarised from dietary recommendations from around the globe and in New Zealand, which were revised and released last year as the Ministry of Health’s Eating and Activity Guidelines for adults.
 
Last week the latest US dietary guidelines were announced and it was interesting to see the environment was taken into consideration in addition to the effects of food on health.

With this in mind, it may raise questions about how food is produced in New Zealand and the environmental impact of these food systems.  We all know farming is the backbone of our economy; equally we know how hard working our farmers are who are the caretakers of our land, in the face of daily challenges.
 
You may recall our campaign from some years ago, ‘Best in the World’ with medallists Sarah Ulmer, Sarah Walker, Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell, which highlighted the safe, efficient production of our New Zealand beef and lamb from gate to plate.  These facts remain, with continued improvement, with systems in place to support farmers to develop their land and livestock through the development of land and environmental plans – this makes it possible for the caretakers of the land to pass it on in better condition for generations to come.
 
There are opinions that eating a diet including meat is not sustainable for the environment, requiring more land and water resources than a diet without meat.  These suggestions make fundamental assumptions of little relevance to New Zealand.  They assume land used for grazing animals can be diverted to other uses, such as crop production, and are based on feedlot systems of production, not the pastoral systems used in New Zealand.
 
In New Zealand, most livestock production takes place on land unsuitable for producing crops, and if the land were not used for grazing, it would essentially be agriculturally unproductive.  In addition, the water footprint of beef and lamb production uses the majority of water from natural rainfall, often not reflected in sustainability comparisons.

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