With most pundits expecting Helen and John to face-off in early November, BayBuzz is starting to get educated on some issues we think are crucial at both the national and Hawke’s Bay regional levels.
One of those is the relation between farming and the environment. And where better to get some insights than the NZ Farmers Weekly. [Yes, Rex McIntyre and Derek Brownrigg, BayBuzz reads the Weekly faithfully!]
In her interview with BayBuzz last week, Helen Clark emphasized very strongly that foreign consumers increasingly will make purchase decisions, including food purchases, based on ethical and environmental considerations.
And in a speech to farmers here in Hawke’s Bay earlier this month, John Key said much the same thing, mentioning the issue of food miles (both leaders see this as a bogus issue) and noted that NZ “can’t negotiate against the prejudices of (foreign) consumers.”
Both leaders, to their credit, recognize that if the NZ “clean, green” image becomes tainted, whether by perceived inaction on global warming emissions or otherwise, NZ agriculture is, well, screwed. Both will struggle to deal with climate policy in an economy unique to the world, where 50% of offending emissions come from the farming sector.
Against this huge challenge, it’s interesting that John Key’s big answer to HB farmers was that a National government, if elected, would have a Resource Management Act reform bill on the table within 100 days, and passed within six months.
Meanwhile, in Farmers Weekly, a former Federated Farmers official, criticising the organisation he belongs to, writes: “… all we seem to have out of Feds HQ around the RMA is a hellish lot of blather and few if any specifics.” He contrasts the Feds position with the Meat & Wool NZ, whose website explains how, he says, the RMA ensures NZ exports are clean and green. Perhaps someone should send that URL to John Key.
For her part, Helen Clark during her visit to HB resisted some questioners from Food Hawke’s Bay who were pressing for “country of origin” food labeling. She believes that such labeling would hurt NZ food exports.
But again, from Farmers Weekly, the evidence seems contrary.
An article titled “Brand guardians push green cause” reports an NZ High Commission official in London noting that country of origin labeling has been in place in the UK for quite some time, adding: “We’re not aware that it’s had a detrimental impact on NZ product.” Score one for Food Hawke’s Bay.
And if food miles aren’t bad enough, next on the horizon is “embedded water” … the amount of water consumed in the growing and processing of food.
Says the Farmers Weekly in its July 21 editorial:
“Mainstream awareness of embedded water is unlikely to be far away and NZ would be in the spotlight because of its growing dependence on man-made irrigation schemes. But it would be naive to think NZ agriculture as a whole won’t be in the dock of public opinion, in the same way it’s been called up over carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.”
That’s not Greenpeace talking! Helen and John, get a Farmers Weekly subscription.
Finally in her interview, Helen Clark extolled Labour’s Fast Forward, a plan to invest $700 million in agriculture R&D. I watched John Key’s speech, where he challenged the math of Fast Forward and called the plan a gimmick. But what he offered from National was a vaguer version of the same thing. Too soon to know whether National’s agriculture R&D program would be something more substantial.
As the election moves in higher gear, hopefully we’ll hear from all parties robust plans that are far more consequential to protecting NZ farming in an era of “green” expectations than “simplification” of the Resource Management Act and tiptoeing around country of origin labeling.
P.S. I’d ask local MPs to comment, but I’ve been informed that all substantive policy utterances must emanate from higher political authorities in Wellington. Apparently, local MPs are expected to stick to kissing babies and joining symbolic marches. But who knows, maybe a courageous one will break protocol before the election is over!