A new proposed tax by New Zealand’s government has farmers bring up gasses of their own.
The government recently proposed taxing the greenhouse gasses farm animals make from burping and urinating as part of a plan to combat climate change. The tax is said to be a world first and that farmers should be able to recoup the cost by charging more for climate-friendly products.
Farmers have condemned the plan. Federated Farmers, the industry’s main lobby group, said the plan would “rip the guts out of small-town New Zealand” and see farms replaced with trees. Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard said farmers had been trying to work with the government for more than two years on an emissions reduction plan that wouldn’t decrease food production. “Our plan was to keep farmers farming,” Hoggard said. Instead, he said farmers would be selling their farms “so fast you won’t even hear the dogs barking on the back of the ute (pickup truck) as they drive off.”
Opposition lawmakers from the conservative ACT Party said the plan would increase emissions worldwide by moving farming to countries that were less efficient at making food. New Zealand’s farming industry is crucial to its economy. Dairy products, including those used to make infant formula in China, are the nation’s largest export. There are only five million people in New Zealand but around 10 million beef and dairy cattle and 26 million sheep. The oversized industry makes New Zealand unusual because about half of its greenhouse gas emissions come from farms. Farm animals produce gasses that warm the planet, particularly methane from cattle burps and nitrous oxide from their urine.
The debate in New Zealand is part of a broader global discussion about farming’s impact on the environment and the steps some say are necessary for mitigation. The government has vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the country carbon neutral by 2050. Part of that plan includes a pledge that methane emissions from farm animals will be reduced by 10% by 2030 and by up to 47% by 2050.
Under the government’s proposed plan, farmers would start to pay for emissions in 2025, but the price has not been finalized. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said all the money collected from the proposed farm levy would be put back into the industry to fund new technology, research and incentive payments for farmers. “New Zealand’s farmers are set to be the first in the world to reduce agricultural emissions, positioning our biggest export market for the competitive advantage that brings in a world increasingly discerning about the provenance of their food,” Ardern said.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said it was an exciting opportunity for New Zealand and its farmers. “Farmers are already experiencing the impact of climate change with more regular drought and flooding,” O’Connor said. “Taking the lead on agricultural emissions is both good for the environment and our economy.”
The Labour government’s proposal is similar to an unsuccessful proposal made by a previous Labour government in 2003 to tax farm animals for their methane emissions. Farmers back then strongly opposed the idea and political opponents ridiculed it as a “fart tax,” but a “burp tax” would have been more technically accurate since most of the methane emissions come from belching. The government eventually abandoned the plan.