GrassFed in the city

4 million kiwis telling our story

The latest Fonterra TV series featuring Richie McCaw is feel-good stuff for farmers – we understand the sentiments, the hard work and the love that goes into producing food for others to drink and eat.  However, for people who are see declining water volume or water quality when they look around New Zealand, or are confronted with ugly dead-calf-in-a-glass-of-milk SAFE billboards as they sit on the motorway in Auckland’s morning traffic – they don’t buy that feel-good factor.  They see a romantic attempt at persuasion.

These consumers don’t need stories – they need facts and they need science, and they need to have their concerns addressed directly – whether good, bad, or ugly.  They need to know how the NZ dairy, sheep and beef sectors define sustainability, and how close we are to actually being sustainable.

Consumers need to know the environmental, social, and economic impact of the food that they eat, and the products that they buy.  But I don’t think we are giving them easy access to information:  Google “How much water does it take to produce 1 litre of milk in NZ” and there are only two results – one a science blog (which took me on an informative 2 hour diversion through a whole heap of articles, thanks, the other was  Worse, ask the same question regarding per kg of  beef and there was not a single result.  Not a single result!  The feel-good stories are a waste of time if you can’t back them up with easily accessed information.

We don’t need New Zealanders to buy our product, we can sell it anywhere.  So it could be easy to not have a significant domestic marketing budget.  However the long-term result is a population that doesn’t understand dairy, sheep or beef farming in NZ, the attributes that differentiate it from other producers, how and why different processes happen on and off farm, and the overall importance to our country – providing the perfect opportunity for activist groups who have the ultimate aim that there is no animals farmed for milk, meat or wool in New Zealand.

And that’s the reason why its so important to invest in our domestic market.  Because the more a New Zealander understands about how we produce our products, the better their peer-to-peer influence can sell our product to the world.

Internationally, local influencers are of vital importance to selling our product – Michelle Tam (Nom Nom Paleo) espousing about the qualities of NZ grass-fed meat is worth 100 times the cost of a BLNZ sponsored post on Facebook.  However, a Kiwi that understands and can confidently talk about our primary products with knowledge and passion is worth their weight in grass-fed antibiotic and HGP free beef.


But we’re not going to get that endorsement if we don’t confront the realities of production head on.  My rural-based brother and sister-in-law have a real dislike for irrigation pivots in the South Island, and the effect they think that irrigation has had on river flow volumes and quality, however I don’t have the information to have a really meaningful discussion with them about it.  When I reassure a friend that she can buy NZ red meat from her supermarket with confidence, she points out that the label isn’t clearly telling her that the meat she is buying is antibiotic and HGP free and grass-fed.  And she wants to know that if HGP use is supposedly so low, why do we have it in NZ at all?  And I want to know too.

Lets get some good information and science out there and easily access by farmers and non-farmers alike.  The biggest group of influential marketers we have are New Zealanders, lets make it easy for them.

Like many of us, I try not to be too engaged in social media.  However, it turns out I am a sucker for farming posts, and the comments section of farming stories in our national media.  I sometimes waste a good hour or so if a farming article has resulted in a slurry of anti-farming rants – I am fascinated by who comments, and what they have to say.  Farmers and non-farmers all have pretty much the same DNA, so I do see rude and disrespectful comments from both on occasion.  But by far, the most angry, seething, hateful comments seem to come from people who I can only describe as angry vegans.  I hope this doesn’t sound disrespectful, I just can’t come up with another term to describe people who’s hatred of farming means they have no worries putting complete fabrications in their comments, or making comments with no thought as to the impact their statements may have on others.

If you are Vegan, and you choose not to eat, wear or have anything to do with animal products, that’s ok.  I understand veganism when it is lived in accordance with a low consumption, low impact, low stress and intentional life philosophy.  A philosophy where the impact is considered at all levels of consumption:  you buy a cellphone, tv or appliance, choose to drive or fly, eat out, or buy a t-shirt.  And a philosophy where your impact on others is also considered.

I also get from a health perspective that a diet that is predominantly vegetables and some fruit is so much better for you than the standard processed diet of many westernised communities.  However, the inclusion of meat and dairy certainly makes it a whole lot easier to obtain all the essential vitamins, minerals and amino-acids to perform at your best.  And that’s without considering how much better a big green salad tastes with some hot off the grill grass-fed beef and a few slices of haloumi on top.

Eating quality grass-fed meat and dairy will always be a part of my life, even as I consciously reduce my consumption habits (a lifetime of work).  But I’m ok if its not part of your life.   I also get it if you genuinely are healthier and ‘run better’ when you exclude meat and dairy products, although I feel that most people probably do better with at least some red meat in their diet.

But from another health perspective, I don’t get how someone, anyone, who lives in New Zealand, a country where we strive for tolerance and understanding; and celebrate our bi-parsitanism and the benefits of our low population, can be so blimmin angry to fellow New Zealanders, who differ only from you in that they produce and/or eat meat and dairy for a living.  Surely the anger and viterol must be incredibly unhealthy for people who I’m sure rate their inner healthfulness pretty highly.  I worry for their hateful (and mostly inaccurate) posts and feel genuinely sorry for the effect that the adrenalin and cortisol dumping must be having on their bodies.

Go ahead, ask the questions about the state of our environment – how are we going with water quality, what direction are we heading?  How long will it take to get our waterways where we want them?  Are we measuring the carbon we are building in our soils?  How are farmers helping control pests?

Go ahead, question the treatment of animals on farm – when do farmers use antibiotics?  How is a cattle beast slaughtered?  What are we thinking about when we shift animals from one paddock into another, when we make fertiliser decisions?  How do we feel when we need to treat an animal who is sick or dying?

Go ahead, question what we do as farmers, whether we produce meat, wool, milk, fruit or veges.  Ask about why we do that organically, biologically, conventionally.

But why not question in a way that may lead to a conversation that is respectful, increases understanding both ways, and is potentially enlightening for everybody?  And keep those stress hormones nice and low.

The most interesting conversations are the ones where you cast aside your assumptions and attitude, and quietly listen to what someone else is saying.  There are some passionate vegans out there that could really increase their understanding of primary production by doing this.

My hope for 2017?  Question away, leave your assumptions on the floor and enjoy engaging with diverse perspectives!