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Young girls eat meat!
Access to meat protein is a food security issue. A mental health issue. (Updated May 2023).
(Edited May 1, 2023.)
NEW ZEALAND’S METHANE TAX
Methane taxes on meat are ignorant and corrupt because they fail to broadly recognise the public good of meat. Proposed methane taxes on New Zealand red meat are morally corrupt.
Meat is castigated as socially unfathomable by an environmental movement that vastly fails to address the complexity of dietary needs and the barriers to adequate diets in the modern world. The scientific discussion on the potential associations between meat and noncommunicable diseases is often affected by agendas, including vested interests and ideologies.
The environmental and societal costs of shelf-stable, low nutrient, ultraprocessed and often addictive food, which drives chronic disease, including mental illness, are left outside of any discussion.
NUTRIENTS FROM MEAT ARE A ‘GOOD’ – PARTICULARLY FOR BUSY FAMILIES
Adding a tax on beef/lamb will further drive food insecurity in New Zealand and will reduce the capacity of our pastoral farmers to compete in global markets.
Meat protein is a staple of human diets. New Zealand’s ‘Wellbeing’ government contradictory ignores the most important supply of quick, healthy protein which is particularly important for busy low-income families. But this is a decades old policy failure. Both Labour and National have ignored nutrition and failed to address the market failure driven by cheap corporate, shitty food at every level of governance (local, regional and central) and policy (science, education and healthcare).
As of April 2023, nearly 1,000 scientists had signed the Dublin Declaration, which emphasises the importance of meat, dairy and eggs in achieving adequate micronutrient levels:
Well-resourced individuals may be able to achieve adequate diets while heavily restricting meat, dairy and eggs. However, this approach should not be recommended for general populations, particularly not those with elevated needs, such as young children and adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, women of reproductive age, older adults, and the chronically ill.
The Greens might not like it, but access to meat is a significant justice issue as
‘populations that have scant access to meat tend to suffer from the typically expected health problems associated with low intake of specific micronutrients found in meat, or from deficient quality protein intakes.’
I’m not saying we should be eating half a kilo of meat a day, but there is precious little space left for nuance in contemporary news reporting or media.
Alarmist health scares relating to healthy quantities of dietary meat are unnecessary - meat is important. A recent meta-analysis concluded that unprocessed meat may not have the negative health effects promoted by media.
Red meat is a particularly good source of
‘protein, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, phosphorus, zinc and iron, with 100gm providing more than 25% RDI of these nutrients. It also provides more than 10% RDI of riboflavin, pantothenic acid and selenium.’
Government policy failures in nutrition and health, effectively and inevitably directs people to food that destroys health and diminishes productivity. New Zealand’s food culture is obesogenic, as structural barriers direct low-income families to cheap, processed food that promotes metabolic syndrome. Unlike most OECD countries, our children are unlikely to be provided with cooked lunches, to increase their nutrition and promote a dietarily adequate education.
For decades the price of shelf stable ultra-processed food, made from industrial monocrop agriculture has been suppressed through not only polluting processes (i.e. not paying for the externalities emitted into the environment), but in the USA, by way of massive subsidies. In contrast, local, fresh food has been unable to compete.
Obesogenic diets promote undernutrition. Rates of decline in under-nutrition globally for children and adults are still too slow to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets by 2030. Undernutrition is a poorly recognised public health problem, and nutrition education in medical training is insufficient.
In New Zealand, 15% GST on food, but particularly, important staples like kumara silverbeet and meat protein – inevitably brings more income back to the government than GST on noodles and chips wrapped in plastic which have travelled thousands of kilometres – on a calorie basis.
Australia has much cheaper food, and meat and vegetables are also GST free.
This important nuance around cultural approaches is closely associated with the marginalisation of communities of colour, who are disproportionately low income and resort to cheap, low-nutrient obesogenic diets, because quality vegetables, proteins and fats are beyond their resource capacity. But this can be contradictory. I.e. accessing wild-caught meat is important for many Māori (and non-Māori) families and boil-ups are a valuable high-nutrient meal; and low-income Asian families with cultural and ancestral cooking skills often consume diets that nutritionally outperform general Pakeha diets.
Current climate change narratives fail to support indigenous and traditional approaches to health and wellbeing. Many cultures historically consumed meat protein, but did not traditionally consume processed and ultraprocessed food of low nutrient value. Why are disease-promoting ultraprocessed low-nutrient products which travel long distances left out of climate change rules while meat is pilloried?
Globally, measures taken during COVID-19 have further increased food insecurity. Small businesses have declined, low-income wages have been outpaced by rising costs of living, and governments have failed to restrict price competition on low-cost housing by opportunistic landlords, that take advantage of economies of scale.
Mince beef is $15-$20 per kilogram in supermarkets. Two serves of mince a week is a key dietary input, particularly for adolescents and women of childbearing age as it provides a quick, convenient source of b vitamins, amino acids. These groups are the most vulnerable financially.
(How much per $/kg is NZ mince beef sold into the US market for? Anyone know?)
The moral jeopardy is in increasing costs of a food many families can barely afford, – for a marginal and indeed, contested, so-called climate win. This is impossible from a ‘wellbeing’ perspective.
The cancer-promoting potential of meat has been conflated with insufficient attention paid to the ingredients in processed meats which can promote cancer. Current narratives relating to red meat and chronic disease fail to adequately dissect the role of additives and preservatives in processed meat.
The Special Issue by the Journal of Animal Frontiers, The Societal Role of Meat is important because it fleshes (!) out this debate, particularly because, as a food matrix, meat is more than the sum of its individual nutrients. But this debate has been thoroughly ignored in New Zealand because:
LEFT & RIGHT MAINSTREAM PARTIES WON’T BLOODY FUND NUTRITION.
Sweeties, there is no IP or licensing fees to be gained. It’s not ‘innovative’.
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GENDER DIFFERENCES IGNORED
The meat methane policy is faulty and ignorant because it cannot value a social good – our farmers produce grass fed red meat with a nutrition profile comparable to no other substitute food. The potential for this to reduce wellbeing, of farmers, of women and girls, is significant.
It fails on an equity basis. Because girls and women require affordable and convenient dietary sources – just like their grandmothers. It’s important we recognise…. women who menstruate, the stress of pregnancy and the nutrient requirements for growing children.
Yes, women have on average lower incomes than men. GST on meat and methane taxes disproportionately impact women and families, not just in New Zealand, but globally. Women are disproportionately affected by iron-deficiency anaemia, sarcopenia, and struggle to address child and maternal malnutrition.
Our pervasively ignorant nutritional environment, and crappy climate narratives effectively downplay these practical and physiological needs of women. We’ve gone from a culture that talks about the goodness of high value protein to a culture that shames it.
Meat is convenient and accessible and its food our ancestors consumed. Substitution of meat in order to meet adequate dietary needs is not easy and models often fail to account for gender differences in iron and protein needs.
For women, iron sourced from red meat is invaluable and important. For low-income families – the cost of the diet of an adolescent girl is one of the highest in the household. This is because girls have high iron requirements, due to menstruation
‘While non-menstruating women and men lose approximately 1 mg of iron daily, menstruating women lose 10 to 42 extra mg per menstrual cycle.’
It’s not sexy to talk about, but menstruating females are at greatest risk of iron deficiency and fatigue. In a 2019 Spanish study of vegetarians, male vegetarians were generally iron sufficient, while:
‘78% of women exhibited iron deficiency or depletion’
Adolescent girls are more likely to exhibit iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia than boys.
What are the symptoms? Weakness, fatigue, an irregular or fast heartbeat (which can resemble symptoms of anxiety) headaches, dyspnoea (shortness of breath), inflammation are all symptoms of iron deficiency. These symptoms resemble many of the symptoms of mental illness, including depression and anxiety, and iron deficiency is strongly associated with psychiatric disorders.
Our climate change narrative directs this most vulnerable group towards veganism and vegetarianism.
Vegetarian diets (including the vegan type) do not necessarily imply a low iron intake, as they include iron-rich products, such as legumes, integral cereals, nuts, and green-leafy vegetables. However, plants contain exclusively non-haem iron, with low bioavailability and whose absorption is dependent on the balance between iron absorption enhancers and inhibitors.
So young women drift towards vegan and vegetarian diets as a social good, but inevitably end up struggling with dietary associated fatigue and mental illness more than their meat eating friends.
Our young people are bathed in media environments that rely on junk food advertising, even for the public broadcaster and schools don’t teach nutrition and mental health. Of course, junk food advertising is a tax deductible business cost, an investment by companies.
Taxes on healthy meat ignores the fact that metabolic syndrome is driven by processed food diets, high in simple carbohydrates and inflammatory oils. However New Zealand’s pervasively ignorant nutritional environment is not addressing this. But by failing to address this, it is low income families, who are most likely to have metabolic syndrome and the multiple associated health problems, including of course, mental illness.
The policy gaps result in systemic failures to turn the chronic disease tsunami around. For example, home economic classes in schools are under-funded and not compulsory, and as one teacher explained to me, ‘we’re only really funded with wheat and sugar for baking - I save my vegetable budget for the NCEA students.’
Of course, parents with heavy workloads and long hours, might have less resources to dedicate to cooking, and every parent struggles with teenagers eating after-school junk food, particularly when they’re not home until later. Dentists target teens as they know this is period is when dental caries rise exponentially.
HYPOCRISY WHEN LOW-NUTRIENT PROCESSED FOOD IS IGNORED
The skills that arise over centuries in predominantly vegetarian countries such as India, involve complex dietary patterns, broad and varied vegetable, dairy and pulse intakes, and a high level dark leafy greens (in meals such as saag).
The average kiwi teenage girl does not come from a family with such a history of cooking. The Spanish study revealed that the Western diet quick fixes for hunger, such as pasta and frozen peas, were more greatly associated with iron deficiency.
New Zealand imports thousands of tonnes of low nutrient processed food, wrapped in petroleum-derived packaging, shipped thousands of kilometres.
Low nutrient, low fibre, high starch (eg. wheat and sugar), ultraprocessed food drives metabolic syndrome as well as being predominantly produced from herbicide tolerant monocrop agriculture. These biotechnology crops are designed (stacks) to have multiple herbicide sprays, by petroleum-distillate derived herbicides.
The foodlike products are transported thousands of kilometres, by the food displacing locally grown whole foods and reducing nutrient intake of bioavailable wholefoods which promote physiological and mental health. These processed foods displace nutrients, and promote inflammation, insulin resistance, oxidative stress and so on. These symptomologies are associated with metabolic syndrome, cancer and mental illness.
Yet New Zealand’s government refuses to tax sugar or junk food. Diet related mental illness is not discussed in New Zealand’s media environment nor in our schools.
Ultraprocessed food is a key driver of modern chronic disease, including metabolic syndrome and mental illness. The data demonstrating that diet directly relates to mental health is extensive. Ultraprocessed food damages microbiota and drives digestive tract deterioration.
THIS IS MARKET FAILURE
Large global oligopolies control ultraprocessed food production and distribution. Yet attention to remediate this, either to tax harmful food, or remove GST on healthy food, and protect local small local fresh-food growers, is low priority. It risks accusation of nanny state interference…
The political chase after climate change is rapidly losing my vote. It used to have it. It’s gone now.
Because there is no nuance for human suffering. It’s been replaced by one-sided technological determinism.
Chronic disease, including metabolic syndrome has been driven by systematic suppression of prices through industrial monocrop agriculture that then produces high sugar, low fibre and low nutrient foods that cannot be separately valued as a net-harm in these models.
Then those people with chronic disease and metabolic syndrome receive complex drug regimes, from drugs often synthesised from petroleum derivatives and shipped thousands of kilometres to New Zealand shores.
I’m over supporting taxes on farmers that produce safe and nourishing whole foods that have been part of human diets since we first learnt to scavenge meat as monkeys.
(NB. We don’t need 200gm slabs of meat every night for nutritional adequacy, and we do need a broad variety of pulses, vegetables, fermented foods, leafy greens, nuts, seeds etc, for nutritional adequacy. It’s all about balance. And I support blokes who passionately fall in love with a carnivore diet which miraculously cures the inflammatory conditions brought on by ultraprocessed high starch and crappy ingredient diets. I also support them learning food prep and cooking skills to move beyond carnivore diets, which achieve short term ends. i.e. helps transition away from addictive habits brought on by hyperaddictive formulations.)
Legacy media cultures don’t directly target CO2 emitting consumption actions that do not produce larger social goods, such as unnecessary renovations for rich people, and junk food imported from foreign countries.
Even contradictory trade agreements which delegate our out of season lemons and onions to the USA.
And yes, lower taxes on our meat means that women in export markets can access our meat.
Neither can we seem to value organic, agroecology and regenerative agriculture that reduce oil-based inputs. Because there’s no IP in that.
I’m over the hypocrisy of taxing safe and nutritious food while harmful non-essential low-nutrient crap is ignored.
The absence of a capacity to measure these relative ‘goods’ leads me to perhaps – ethically join the cohort known as ‘climate deniers’ – because I observe a profound inability to reason across these complex issues and fundamentally protect human and environmental health.
SUBSTITUTION BY FACTORY-MADE PROTEINS CREATE MORE PROBLEMS
Imitation processed meat struggles to substitute pasture grown meat, as a human health benefit. Massive funding injections into imitation/cell-based meat start-ups are wildly optimistic, but are not balanced by independent scientific research processes/platforms in which to evaluate their risk/benefit. Similarly, the propaganda on insect-based protein ignores the fundamentally inflammatory character of insects (which is why we don’t already include them in our diet).
Advocates for fermented protein fail to draw attention to feedstock and supply chain issues. Feedstock might inevitably come from monocrop agriculture, itself with heavy spray regimes which promote inflammation.
Current imitation meat made from herbicide tolerant soy crops fail to adequately parse risk of high soy content, the environmental consequences of multiple herbicide sprays, transport costs and chemical additives that may be inflammatory, as well as high salt content, added to imitate meat flavours.
Promoters of lab-grown meat fail to ignore the pervasive bacteriological ‘wicked problem’ where, without immune systems to counteract bacteriological invasion, it is likely that lab grown meat environments will involve high doses of antibacterial treatments including antibiotics.
DISPROPORTIONATELY HARM FAMILY-OWNED FARMS
Methane taxes are ruthless because firstly farm gate-price trends are fundamentally uncertain and New Zealand farmers compete against subsidised countries, with return to the farmer at approximately 30% of the end product value.
Farming is energy intensive, and farmers must contend with increasing fuel prices, and increasing input prices such as fertiliser cost. While prices now are good, markets are fundamentally unstable, and this is not necessarily the case in the years to come.
Taxes on meat will overtly harm small-holder farms. Capitalism only works when large mega-corporations are controlled to ensure they don’t abuse power. Governments are failing to do this. Yet healthy agriculture involves lots of small holders, few medium holders and very few mega-landowners. Increased interest rates, taxation, leads to consolidation of the powerful, business is a numbers game, and everyone knows it.
This is exacerbated by Labour reducing access to off-shore ownership for forestry for climate change abatement. Government policies ensure the return on this sort of forestry far exceeds livestock income. It’s a perverse incentive directing agriculture away from sustainable food production.
Narrow supply chains control prices and squeeze farmers and consumers. Farmers are price receivers and farm inputs fluctuate with market prices. Farm mortgages are sitting at unprecedented levels.
Sudden economic ruptures can result in smallholders being displaced with larger corporate actors. There is no safeguarding of farms to ensure that they remain locally owned and operated, and outside of international trade agreements, to ensure local communities and local rules can safeguard our farms, their soils and the surrounding waters.
This is a national security issue. I want farmland held by citizens and residents.
I have not seen any analysis on how farming in New Zealand, following such a move to tax methane emissions, would be retained by locally owned families and small co-operative investment groups. The government does not seem to have allowed for such a transition to ensure small-holders could compete against large corporate actors.
Sheep and beef farmers are low hanging fruit in a political culture that is consistently unable to put in place adequate scientific and research institutions promoting interdisciplinary research that prioritises human and environmental health. Resilience is key - and resilience can encompass extraordinary weather events.
But this has been enabled by deficient government policies.
Farmers aren’t perfect, in many cases, stocking rates have not matched the soils capacity to absorb excretion, resulting in pollution of freshwater sources. I believe this long-term failure has then enabled livestock farmers to be easily marginalised and positioned as climate harmers. But when the DSIR was dismantled, complex basic science was downgraded and defunded.
Sequential governments have consistently failed to meaningfully fund soil-based, open systems agriculture and agroecological research which would have picked this up much, much earlier and provided knowledge-based systems to transition earlier.
The New Zealand government destroyed the science-farmer feedback loop system 20-30 years ago. Agricultural extension services fed the latest published scientific knowledge to farmers, and in turn, farmers fed back their concerns and challenges to the scientific fraternity. This then drove more research.
That shit was killed off. Apparently, farmer-scientist informational feedback-loops using information sourced from the published literature was uneconomic.
Farmers then had to pay $200 per hour for a scientist to help them. That’s when farmers turned around and walked into Farmlands, PG Wrightsons et al for the latest information. That’s when synthetic chemicals became the crutch, and systems-based science was relegated to the wilderness, eons behind our funding boost for biotechnology. Because you can patent that stuff, and derive licenses. That’s the business model we encourage in our CRIs.
Farmers have been starved of information. The regenerative movement has gone an enormous way to alleviating this information deficit, via chat groups online that help farmers get tips and tricks - information from colleagues all over New Zealand.
The government is ruthless because there has been a long lead time where we recognise that current industrial farming systems are dependent on inputs including pesticides (from petroleum distillates) and synthetic fertiliser (petroleum-based ammonia). Horticultural crops use ten times the amount of petroleum distillate-based pesticides as pastoral farming.
There has been no public recognition of the benefits of agroecological and organic systems with chemical free weed management regimes, lower stocking rates, and regenerative systems with lower demand on fertiliser. These systems reduce dependence on offshore inputs that must be freighted here.
Farmers must contend with fluctuating market prices but must manage long term public goods – arable soil and freshwater – to produce public goods - food. But we have not seen adequate investment in interdisciplinary science and research to support agricultural systems such as agro-ecological, regenerative and organic, which work to minimise external inputs including chemical herbicides and synthetic fertiliser.
So, it’s naughty farmers which we must all poke fingers at. FFS.
The Societal Role of Meat. Special Issue. Animal Frontiers, Volume 13, Issue 2, April 2023. ISSN 2160-6056 EISSN 2160-6064.
J.R.Bruning Talking Risk is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.