New Zealand proposes to tax cow burps as part of plan to fight climate change

The New Zealand government has proposed taxing the greenhouse gases produced by farm animals burping and peeing as part of a plan to tackle climate change.

The government said the farm levy is a world first and farmers should be able to recoup costs by charging more for climate-friendly produce.

But farmers were quick to condemn the plan, and Federated Farmers, the industry’s main lobby group, said the plan would “rip the guts out of small town New Zealand” and result in farms being replaced by trees.

Andrew Hoggard, president of Federated Farmers, said farmers had been trying to work with the government on an emissions reduction plan for more than two years that would not reduce food production.

Our plan was to keep the farmers in farmingAndrew Hoggard, Federated Farmers

“Our plan was to keep farmers in farming,” Mr Hoggard said.

Instead, he said farmers were selling their farms “so fast you don’t even hear the dogs riding in the back of the ute (pick-up truck) barking as they pull away.”

Opposition MPs from the conservative ACT party said the plan would actually increase global emissions by shifting agriculture to other countries that are less efficient at producing food.

New Zealand agriculture is vital to the economy.

Dairy products, including those used in China to make infant formula, are the country’s top exporters.

There are only five million people in New Zealand, but about 10 million cattle and dairy cattle and 26 million sheep.

The outsized industry has made New Zealand unusual in that about half of its greenhouse gas emissions come from farms.

Livestock produce gases that warm the planet, most notably methane from cattle burps and nitrous oxide from their urine.

Taking the lead on agricultural emissions is good for both the environment and our economyAgriculture Secretary Damien O’Connor

The debate in New Zealand is part of a broader global consideration of agriculture’s impact on the environment and the steps some say are needed to mitigate it.

In the Netherlands, farmers have dumped hay bales on motorways and driven tractors on busy roads to protest government proposals to cut emissions of harmful pollutants.

In New Zealand, the government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making the country carbon neutral by 2050.

Part of that plan includes a pledge to reduce methane emissions from livestock by 10% by 2030 and by up to 47% by 2050.

Under the government’s proposed plan, farmers would start paying for emissions from 2025, with pricing ongoing.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said all the money raised from the proposed farm levy would go back into industry to fund new technology, research and incentive payments to farmers.

“New Zealand farmers will be the first in the world to reduce agricultural emissions and position our largest export market for the competitive advantage that brings a world that is increasingly demanding about the origins of its food,” said Ms Ardern.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said it was an exciting opportunity for New Zealand and its farmers.


Dairy cows graze on a farm near Oxford in New Zealand’s South Island (Mark Baker/AP)

“Farmers are already experiencing the effects of climate change with more frequent droughts and floods,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Taking the lead on agricultural emissions is good for both the environment and our economy.”

The Liberal Labor government’s proposal follows a similar but unsuccessful 2003 proposal by a previous Labor government to tax livestock for their methane emissions.

Farmers also vehemently opposed it at the time, political opponents derided it as a “fart tax” – although a “burp tax” would have been technically more accurate, since most methane emissions come from burping.

The government eventually abandoned the plan.

According to opinion polls, Ms Ardern’s Labor Party has lost popularity, falling behind the main opposition party, the National Party, since Ms Ardern won a second term in a landslide victory of historic proportions in 2020.

If Ms Ardern’s government cannot reach an agreement on the proposal with farmers, who wield significant political clout in New Zealand, Ms Ardern will likely face a harder time winning re-election next year when the nation goes back to the polls. New Zealand proposes to tax cow burps as part of plan to fight climate change

Fry Electronics Team

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