What does a large rise in veganism among New Zealanders mean for the country that is reliant on animal agriculture for its economy.

New Zealanders are embracing plant-based diets with more people than ever choosing to go meat-free – and the signs are that it’s no passing fad.

But while the move towards “meatless” is driven by many factors – such as price, preference and moral stances – a major change in our appetites will have a massive impact on our farming sector and what they produce in the future.

In 2019, the amount of New Zealanders eating “meat free” jumped to 15 per cent, according to the latest Colmar Brunton Better Futures report.

In 2018, that number was 10 per cent, and the year before, just 7 per cent.

Celebrity chef and co-founder of My Food Bag Nadia Lim said she noticed a major shift in consumer behaviour 18 months ago.

“It was a very noticeable change.”

Lim said at that time people were becoming more aware than ever about all aspects of food production.

“Our world of food is really complex to navigate and people were looking for answers, and were questioning where their food comes from.”

People were craving simplicity because of confusing messages about food, and so were drawn to wholesome foods such as fruit and vegetables.

Lim, who describes herself as a “selective omnivore”, said the three strands of environment, ethics and health underpinned much modern thinking about food.

“What I believe will happen is that more people will embrace vegetables and plant-based diets, it’s not a fad.

“It’s a real food movement, I can feel it.

Primary Industries Minister Damien O’Connor agrees and says it poses both risks and opportunities for New Zealand.

“It’s a real trend we have to analyse and understand. I’ve been promoting that discussion at every opportunity:  we are niche players in terms of global protein production and fibre. We can differentiate ourselves and there will always be a market for our high quality output, but connecting what we produce with the right customers is the challenge.  We will struggle to produce the really high volumes of plant protein that South America America and the US and other countries can produce. But there are many opportunities in terms of cropping and I’m sure of the raw materials of plant-based protein alternative. “

But meat was still a big part of our exporting future.

“There is a huge market for pasture fed, high quality, hormone free meat that’s raised in an ethical way and that’s where we need to be positioning ourselves.”

Wellington woman Veronica Gasanova stopped eating all meat, dairy and eggs in 2018, and said she was “blessed” to live in a day and age where being vegan was an easy choice.

“We have an abundance and variety of food… and we have information and research around going vegan,” she said.

Animal agriculture contributes to 49 per cent of greenhouse gases in New Zealand, China Agricultural University former lecturer in environmental management Michael Morris said.

“This is how much our emissions will be reduced if we stop producing or consuming meat.”

Research at the University of Otago recently found that if every adult in New Zealand adopted a vegan diet, and minimised food waste, the emissions saved would equal about 60 per cent of the emissions from cars and vans.

The Dunedin researchers said if New Zealanders ate more “plant based” foods, and less meat, the health system could save billions of dollars and there would be sizeable reductions in climate change-causing greenhouse gases.

But Morris said animal agriculture was responsible for a great deal more environmental destruction than just climate change.

In New Zealand, dairying was responsible for water pollution, high faecal coliform levels were making rivers too dangerous to swim in, and high nitrates were causing algal blooms, Morris said.

“Animal agriculture is causing present and historical habitat destruction… most lowland kahikatea forests and wetlands have been destroyed for animal agriculture.”

The entire landscape could be transformed, he said.

“Waterways would be swimmable. Habitat loss could be reversed through restoration. Freshwater fish and saltwater fish would thrive again. The Maui’s dolphin would be saved.

“We could have no problem meeting our Paris Accord agreements. We would be considered world leaders and go down in history for saving the climate.”

OraTaiao, the New Zealand Climate and Health Council, agree a shift from an agriculture sector from red meat and dairy to one focused on sustainable plant production would improve freshwater quality, reduce contaminants in the environment and slash waterborne illnesses.

“New Zealand could live up to its reputation as a ‘clean green’ producer by shifting to low input sustainable plant-based agriculture systems, and lead sustainable and healthy dietary shifts.”

In 2018, when Air New Zealand announced it would serve the Impossible Burger, a plant-based product that mimics beef, much of the nation gave a collective cry of horror.

At the time, Beef + Lamb New Zealand said farmers were justified if they felt upset and let down.

But Morris said people no longer have a choice.

“Market forces and technology means that plant products from precision fermentation will soon be cheaper than animal protein.”

Vegan Society NZ spokeswoman Claire Insley said people wouldn’t even have to give up flying, or petrol cars, if everyone gave up meat and dairy.

“New Zealand’s emissions are among the highest per capita in the world. We are ideally placed to reduce them by giving up animal agriculture.”

Farmers could grow plants instead, she said.

“We have now changed our environment so much that we have to adapt to it again. That means making big changes… had we acted 30 years ago, all this would have been different,” she said.

“We have all the solutions to climate change and the difficulties that we currently face, but they are not being implemented.”

Beef + Lamb NZ chief insights officer Jeremy Baker said their research showed the country’s farmers need not fear veganism.

“We were encouraged that there will always be a market for high-quality, grass-fed beef.”

Alternative meats had their place, but Baker warned all new food production came at a cost to the environment – not just farming.

Federated Farmers Wairarapa president William Beetham said cutting out meat could lead the country to import more food – increasing emissions.

The hole left by the $4 billion export earnings from beef and lamb would need to be filled somehow, and a new industry would bring with it more emissions, he said.

He said much of the country’s land was unfit for anything except sheep, cattle and plantation forestry, anyway.

“Only 8 per cent of New Zealand’s sheep and beef land is flat,” he said.

“Blanketing productive farmland in pines would gut rural communities and employment, as apart from planting and harvest time, and occasional pruning, there is much less employing activity compared to year-round livestock farming.

“There are also fire risk, disease risk and fuel load considerations with blanket pine forests and climate change.”

People cutting out meat from their diet would be a concern for farmers, he said.

“The potential nutritional issues that could occur especially for young New Zealanders could be serious.”

Young peoples’ brains needed “nutrient dense” foods and protein, he said.

However, associate professor in environmental health Dr Alexandra Macmillan said moving towards a “fully plant-based” diet would be good for most people.

“Big savings would come from reductions in obesity, heart disease and cancer,” she said.

“We found that a healthy plant-based diet adopted by all adults in the NZ population would come with savings in the tens of billions of dollars over the lives of those adults.”

Claire Insley’s typical  day: 

Breakfast: An Organ “Easy Egg” omelette with garlic and spinach on wholemeal toast with Olivani and Marmite.

Lunch: Mushroom soup.

Dinner: A curry with vegetables, cannelloni beans and brown rice.

Snacks: Dark chocolate, fruit, bhuja mix or chips, dates, nuts and vegan Gingernuts (only one or two options a day).

But what about protein? 

“All vegetables, grains, many fruits, mushrooms, pulses, seeds and nuts all contain protein,” Insley said.

“Many people on a Western Standard diet consume too much protein… a wholefood plant-based diet is fully able to provide humans of all ages all the nutrients they require.”

Original Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/