New Zealand proposes taxing cow burps, angering farmers
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The New Zealand government on Tuesday proposed taxing the greenhouse gases produced by farm animals burping and peeing as part of a plan to combat 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 the farmers were quick to condemn the plan. Federated Farmers, the industry’s main lobby group, said the plan would “rip the guts out of small town New Zealand” and replace farms with trees.
Andrew Hoggard, President of the Federation of Farmers, said farmers had been trying to work with the government on a plan to cut emissions for more than two years that would not reduce food production.
“Our plan was to continue farming the farmers,” Hoggard said. Instead, he said farmers were selling their farms “so fast you don’t even hear the dogs that ride in the back of the ute[pickup truck]barking when they pull away.”
Opposition lawmakers 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 5 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 belches and nitrous oxide from their urine.
The government has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make 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 critical of where its food comes from,” Ardern said.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said it was an exciting opportunity for New Zealand and its farmers.
“Farmers are already experiencing the effects of climate change with more frequent droughts and floods,” 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, too, vehemently opposed the idea at the time, and political opponents derided it as a “fart tax” — although technically a “burp tax” would have been more accurate, since most methane emissions come from burping. The government eventually abandoned the plan.
According to opinion polls, Ardern’s Labor Party has lost popularity, falling behind the main opposition party, the National Party, since Ardern won a second term in a historic landslide victory in 2020.
If Ardern’s government cannot reach an agreement on the proposal with farmers, who hold significant political clout in New Zealand, Ardern will likely face a harder time winning re-election next year when the nation goes back to the polls.