Dr Jacqueline Rowarth: How globalization affects food choices


Imported pork products do not necessarily meet our welfare requirements.File photo/George Novak

Opinion: In this age of globalization, every action has a reaction with potential global implications, writes Dr. Jacqueline Rowarth.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s Newton’s third law of motion and its implications go beyond physics.

In this age of globalization, every action has a reaction with potential global implications.

Shortages of sunflower and canola oil are increasing due to bad weather and the war in Ukraine.

In response, Indonesia stopped exporting all forms of palm oil, to protect its own users from possible shortages and price hikes.

Reaction to the news highlighted Indonesia’s global dominance as a palm oil supplier (58% of the market) and the ubiquitous use of palm oil in products ranging from shampoo to oil. cooking and biofuels.

Indonesia’s ban is expected to drive up food prices everywhere.

So far, no comments from activists concerned about deforestation and the plight of orangutans have appeared in the news. All biodiversity is threatened when human activities expand, but orangutans usually feature in discussions about palm oil.

Doctor Jacqueline Rowarth.  Photo / Provided
Doctor Jacqueline Rowarth. Photo / Provided

Banning oil exports could have been considered a good decision in terms of protection and deserves to be encouraged. But perhaps the reality of steadily rising food prices has hit home.

And maybe a cost-benefit analysis has been done.

In the UK, a report from a consultancy firm Levercliff reported that 71% of consumers now choose value over durability. In October of last year, that figure was 58%.

People are increasingly prioritizing their own financial viability and mental well-being over sustainability – “it’s not that they don’t care, but they have more pressing needs” .

Translate that to the pork industry in New Zealand, and the implications are not good.

Activists have lobbied to tighten animal welfare standards. This is despite the fact that farm animal welfare in New Zealand has been rated higher than that of our trading partners by International Animal Protection.

The NZPork website says over 60% of pork products consumed in New Zealand are imported and around 85% of cured products like bacon and ham.

Why? Because imported pork is cheaper. Personal cost-benefit analysis indicates that consumers are looking for value in New Zealand as well as the rest of the world.

For pig farmers in New Zealand, the talk of ever-higher welfare standards, as featured in the media over the past week, is hard to digest.

They know that consumers will make decisions based on their wallet and buy the “value” product. It is unlikely to be the one produced in New Zealand to meet the standards of well-being demanded by New Zealanders when imported products are cheaper, at least in part because they use illegal practices here.

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the Ministry of Primary Industries is currently consulting on changes to current social protection regulations.

There is an ACA to do: more freedom for the sow but more mortality for the piglets.

Sows are big, piglets are small. The development of farrowing crates has increased piglet survival and New Zealand has regulations on farrowing crates size and short duration of use.

The third component of the ABCs is personal finance.

Egg production has been subject to a similar consultation process and a change in welfare regulations, but unlike pork products, whole eggs cannot be imported to replace locally produced eggs. Consumers must pay the price of eggs produced in New Zealand.

But for pork products, there are choices – and imported products that do not necessarily meet our welfare requirements.

The components of the ABC make for a good debate.

By contrast, a CBA for palm oil, involving only sustainably managed plantations, should be easy.

The aim should be to prevent further expansion of agricultural land by appropriately managing existing land. The yield of palm oil per hectare is 3.3 tons.

That of rapeseed or sunflower is 0.7 t/ha. The yield of soybean oil is only 0.4 t/ha. The International Union for nature conservation points out that the proposal to switch from palm oil to other oilseed crops could lead to further loss of biodiversity in areas where other oils can be produced.

It’s not a “let them eat cake” moment (if there’s no palm oil, use something else); it’s time to have some sense. How do we help the palm oil industry make even better from the land already planted?

IUCN has suggestions for producing and importing countries.

Oil-producing countries must ensure that palm oil production complies with national laws and international conventions aimed at avoiding negative environmental impacts.

Importing countries should limit the use of palm oil in biofuels and ensure that deforestation policies apply to all vegetable oils, not just palm oil.

It’s a form of “equivalence” and it’s what the pork industry offers in terms of animal welfare for imported products.

Equivalence matches trade negotiations with other countries that buy New Zealand products – and Animal Protection International ranks the welfare of New Zealand farm animals above most other countries.

The CBA concerns animals in all these cases and applies to all agricultural production.

Compromising requires an understanding of action and reaction – the implications are global.

– Dr Jacqueline Rowarth, adjunct professor at the University of Lincoln, is the farmer-elected director of DairyNZ and Ravensdown. The above analysis and conclusions are his own. [email protected]


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