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Mark Baker/PA
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New Zealand proposes taxing cow burps as part of plan to tackle climate change

There are just five million people in New Zealand but some 10 million beef and dairy cattle and 26 million sheep.

NEW ZEALAND’S GOVERNMENT has proposed taxing the greenhouse gases that farm animals make from burping and peeing as part of a plan to tackle climate change.

The government said the farm levy would be a world first, and that farmers should be able to recoup the cost by charging more for climate-friendly products.

But farmers quickly condemned the plan, with Federated Farmers, the industry’s main lobby group, saying 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 would not decrease food production.

“Our plan was to keep farmers farming,” Mr Hoggard said.
new-zealand-north-island-taranaki-dairy-cows-in-green-grassy-paddock-of-dairy-farm-mount-egmont-in-the-background Cows in the Taranaki region of New Zealand's North Island Himani Smeaton / PA Himani Smeaton / PA / PA
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 (pick-up truck) as they drive off”.

Opposition legislators from the conservative ACT Party said the plan would actually increase worldwide emissions by moving farming to other countries that were less efficient at making food.

New Zealand’s farming industry is vital to its economy.

Dairy products, including those used to make infant formula in China, are the nation’s largest export earner.

There are just five million people in New Zealand but some 10 million beef 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.

Farm animals produce gases that warm the planet, particularly methane from cattle burps and nitrous oxide from their urine.

“Farmers are already experiencing the impact of climate change with more regular drought and flooding,” Mr O’Connor said.

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

The liberal Labour government’s proposal harks back to a similar but unsuccessful proposal made by a previous Labour government in 2003 to tax farm animals for their methane emissions.

Farmers back then also vehemently opposed the idea, and political opponents ridiculed it as a “fart tax” – although a “burp tax” would have been more technically accurate as most of the methane emissions come from belching.

The government eventually abandoned the plan.

According to opinion polls, Ms Ardern’s Labour Party has slipped in popularity and fallen behind the main opposition National Party since Ms Ardern won a second term in 2020 in a landslide victory of historic proportions.

If Ms Ardern’s government cannot find agreement on the proposal with farmers, who have considerable political sway in New Zealand, it is likely to make it more difficult for Ms Ardern to win re-election next year when the nation goes back to the polls.

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