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Globalisation of Environment & Food Safety Issues

Hon. Marian Hobbs
26 July 2000 Speech Notes
1.30PM 26 July 2000
Horticulture Industry Conference on "Globalisation of Environmental and Food Safety Issues"

Thank you for the opportunity to address your conference. Your industry is facing a number of environmental issues and I will touch on a few today: climate change, food safety and marketing, research, soil erosion and water use.

The Government is committed to addressing global environmental issues. These range from greenhouse gases and climate change through to a growing international commitment to sustainability of soil and water resources. Climate change and greenhouse gas issues will have implications for horticulture. For example there are the effects of increased UV levels and temperature changes on fruit production, quality and pest management.

Our understanding of the risks posed by climate change improves year by year. Recent research by NIWA shows that, over the last 20 years there has been a gradual warming for both the North and South Islands, with winter temperatures rising faster in the more southern parts of New Zealand. There have been changes in rainfall and windiness, and seasonal snow storage in the South Island is likely to decrease. The recent unusual weather conditions that New Zealand has been experiencing are entirely consistent with the expected effects of climate change. In fact the words “climate change” are really a misnomer: this global phenomenon should more properly be called “climate destabilisation”.

Changes in the severity and frequency of climatic extremes would have the greatest immediate impacts. More cyclones are an example of this.

Obviously climate change has impacts for land managers and the wider primary sector. Changes in the annual distribution of rainfall and increased mean seasonal temperature and sunshine along with unseasonal frosts and intensive rain and hailstorms will cause significant changes in horticultural production. This may have some benefits for some horticultural regions, but are likely to cause dislocation and problems in many parts of the country. The overall unreliability of the weather resulting from climate change will likely outweigh any benefits (such as bumper stone and pip fruit and other crops) from general warming of New Zealand’s climate.

New Zealand is a party to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) which it signed in 1994. Its commitments under the FCCC include preparing a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory and developing policies to reduce emissions. In addition new legally binding targets were set and agreed to in Kyoto in December 1997.

The three most important gases in New Zealand’s inventory are methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Overall, inventory data show that relative to 1990, carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, methane emissions are decreasing and nitrous oxide emissions are reasonably stable.

Our current knowledge of the quantum of soil carbon in agricultural land or changes to the amounts of soil carbon as a result of land use changes (eg pasture to forestry or cropping or horticulture) is limited. Research is well advanced, however, on establishing a national system for quantifying changes in soil carbon storage and the contribution of soils to New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas inventory.

Currently the Government’s Climate Change Programme has a focus on improving our understanding of the GHG processes in soils and a number of rural land uses. Our knowledge of the effects of those land management practices that increase and decrease GHG emissions are currently quite limited. Consequently, science and research is being funded through a number of government funding programmes.

The Government will continue to be very active not only on global environmental and food safety issues but also in promoting market access, by, among other things, addressing technical or standards-related barriers to trade. New Zealand must manage the tensions between globalisation and a more open trading environment and the maintenance of biosecurity. The Government in its most recent Budget has increased funding for MAF’s biosecurity activities.

We are mindful of the relationships between global environmental issues and the sustainability of horticulture. New Zealand’s horticultural industry must give greater emphasis to production practices that are environmentally sound and sustainable and which help underpin the safe and “clean green” image of New Zealand’s food exports. Sustainable and environmentally sound production practices are good economics: already niche-oriented organic producers are earning substantial premiums for certified organic fruit.

New Zealand has made considerable progress in developing horticultural production systems that reduce chemical residues in food, reduce negative environmental impacts, and improve the sustainability of soil and water resources. Examples include Kiwigreen for kiwifruit and Integrated Fruit Production (IFP) for the pipfruit industry. These production systems and advances in sustainable production have been made possible by such initiatives as:

 biological control organisms and practices that have been integrated into more holistic production systems;
 new pest and microclimate modelling systems to help growers manage pests with minimal pesticide use;
 new management practices and technological applications to ensure safer spraying practices;
 adoption of practices to increase soil organic matter, foster soil health, and reduce soil compaction; and
 management practices and soil moisture monitoring to enable more efficient use of water resources.

Many of these advances result from research going back to at least the 1970s and have involved strong partnerships between government-funded research and industry.

The Government is increasing substantially its investment in R&D, much of which is focusing on industry development. Government-funded research relevant to the horticultural industry’s response to global environmental and food safety issues includes research on:

 soil processes and fertility management;
 knowledge of fruit and vegetables to promote healthier eating;
 quality management;
 development of pest resistant plants;
 environmentally safe pest management for horticulture;
 biological control of plant diseases;
 biological control of insect pests; and
 water requirements for sustainable production.

Globalisation of Food Safety Issues

Increasingly, overseas consumers are demanding higher food safety standards and lower chemical residues. And they are increasingly concerned not only with the food products produced but also with the sustainability and the ethical aspects of how they are produced. Consumers are demanding certification and verification procedures to assure them of the safety and integrity of food products and the traceability of the processes through which a product is produced, processed and marketed. New Zealand must meet and where possible be ahead of these demands, consistent with international principles and obligations, and also be prepared to anticipate and address technical barriers to trade. Key points are that:

 international awareness and interest in food safety issues has grown significantly over the last decade;

 consumers are demanding higher safety standards and assurances;

 the phenomenal growth of world trade, increasing mobility of populations, and emergence of new products and processes make food quality and safety global issues;

 New Zealand has an enviable reputation internationally with regard to our clean, green environment and the quality and safety of our foodstuffs. However, we must not be complacent;

 success in the international market will require strong emphasis and commitment to maintaining food safety throughout the food chain;

 industry has the responsibility to:
- ensure that products meet the requirements of the marketplace;
- be responsive to the needs of the market and consumers' preferences; and
- invest in R&D to maintain a leading edge in the market;

 a key priority for Government is to promote sound science-based approaches to national and international standards as required by WTO Agreements: MAF plays a vigorous role and often leads international standard-setting bodies which establish the frameworks for world trade in food products;

 a sound science-based approach provides us with the greatest degree of assurance against the use of technical measures and regulations as disguised barriers to trade.

New Zealand also needs to continue (or lead) work with other countries to ensure that:

 trade rules are fair and properly applied;
 our own border measures for food imports are consistent with these same rules;
 as far as possible, international standards are in place, and regularly updated to reflect and accommodate innovation;
 the assurances we give on the safety of our food exports are accepted by other governments in a spirit of trust and confidence in New Zealand systems; and
 consumers world-wide continue to seek out New Zealand food products.

Genetic Modification

People have been modifying plants and animals genetically for thousands of years and New Zealand's horticultural industry has earned premiums through new plant varieties based on traditional plant breeding techniques. New and emerging advances in
genetic modification, especially involving transgenics, are of great significance to a biologically-based economy such as New Zealand. These new scientific advances may be important in enhancing the sustainability of our horticultural industry, for example through reductions in chemical use. Advanced techniques in molecular genetics also offer the best opportunity to address many significant illnesses and health disorders.

Genetic modification involving transgenics is of course controversial and raises many issues. However, new advances in molecular genetics may offer great economic opportunities without the use of transgenics. For example, advances may be made in the understanding of the relationships between health and wellness, genetic predisposition, physiology and nutrition, creating new opportunities in functional food ingredients and “nutraceuticals”. This could well create longer-term opportunities for New Zealand’s horticultural industry.

However, there are major concerns in the community with issues relating to genetic modification, e.g. in relation to food allergies and ethical and societal concerns. The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification aims to help build the framework through which we can decide whether we want to use genetic modification – and if we do, what are the social and ethical guidelines.

Broader Trends in International Horticultural Industry Markets

There are a number of broader trends occurring in international horticultural industry markets. These include:

 growing market concentration in the retail sector and reductions in the numbers of suppliers;
 pressures for suppliers to become category managers providing a wider “fruit basket” for 12 months a year, involving sourcing of supply from different countries;
 technological change in post-harvest and cool storage technology may impact on New Zealand’s ability to earn Northern Hemisphere premiums through “out of season” supply;
 some overseas retailers are seeking to buy into marketing and supply businesses;
 niche retailers are emerging who wish to build direct relationships with growers rather than deal with marketing businesses; and
 niche markets, e.g. for organic fruit, often require much more rigorous and verifiable certification requirements.

Erosion on the East Coast

The East Coast region represents only 7% of the land area of the North Island, but it contains 50% of the worst soil erosion. I suggest to you that accelerated erosion of the hill country pastoral land is the number one environmental issue for the Gisborne District Council.

What has this got to do with the horticultural industry? Horticulture is based on alluvial soils in river basins. In the Gisborne district horticulture has been established and is expanding on the Waiapoa Basin and the river valleys at Tokomaru and Tolaga Bays and further north at Tikitiki and Ruatoria. These horticultural areas are very dependent on what happens in the upper reaches of the catchments - the erodible pastoral hill country.

It has been some 12 years since Cyclone Bola struck the east coast of the North Island. Though it had a severe impact on the Gisborne - Northern Hawke’s Bay area the cyclone caused severe damage in other parts of the North Island. Bola is now somewhat a distant memory to many people so I would like to remind you of some of the statistics. In 72 hours, Bola deluged the Gisborne region with nearly half a metre of rain with nearly a metre falling in some areas. The erosion that resulted followed earlier patterns but the scale was unprecedented. In one small catchment just north of Gisborne pastoral land lost an estimated 46 million tonnes (up to 3,500 tonnes per hectare!). Hill country land planted in exotic trees fared better losing from 200 to 2,000 tonnes/hectare depending on how recently the trees had been planted.

In economic terms Cyclone Bola was one of the worst natural disasters that New Zealand has experienced. The cost of property damage is estimated to have been nearly $120 million with the previous Labour Government providing some 1,500 affected land owners $60 million in relief payments. You may recall the media photographs and television images of vineyards and other horticultural enterprises on the river terraces literally buried in one and two metres of silt. Utter devastation!

As a result of Cyclone Bola the previous Labour Government, established a conservation forestry scheme to plant the most severely eroding land in the headwaters of Tolaga Bay and the Waipaoa Basin. These were and remain the areas that have the highest downstream economic value to the Gisborne region - not in any small part contributed to by the intensive agriculture and horticulture that is established there. Subsequently this scheme was expanded and developed into the current East Coast Forestry Project - which is targeting the worst areas of severely eroding pastoral hill country in the Gisborne region.

There are a number of messages that you can take from Cyclone Bola.
 Though horticulture is usually found on the better river terraces at the lower reaches of major rivers - you are as an industry dependent on the sustainable land use and good management practices of the middle and upper reaches of the catchment.
 The onus is on you to get involved with the plans and policies of your regional council to ensure that the whole catchment is managed to the benefit of all
 Climate variability and climate extremes are likely to increase in our lifetime. Climatic events impact dramatically on our primary industry. We will need to make some hard choices and decisions locally (and globally) to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions so as to stabilise our climate.

Water Allocation

The Government is looking to enhance rural social and economic outcomes. This can only be achieved through the sustainable development of our natural resources. Sustainable development looks at our resources, but using them wisely. It encompasses environmental protection as well as use.

Changing agricultural and horticultural trends coupled with increasing recreational and environmental demands for water in rivers have led to water shortages in some areas of New Zealand. The largest use of freshwater in New Zealand is irrigation for agriculture and horticulture. Irrigation plays a significant role in sustaining the economies of Northland, Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Tasman, Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago. The demand for water is currently exceeding, or will soon exceed, that available in these areas. This has been identified as a major constraint to sustainable development in these areas.

This means that the Government can only achieve its sustainable development goals through better allocation of water. Water is an important factor of production in the rural economy. Like all factors of production some constraint on its use are set out in legislation. Just as we have minimum standards for use of labour we have minimum standards for use of natural resources. We need to ensure that these legitimate constraints are transparent and appropriate. The other constraints to better use of water need to be identified and removed.

Improving the way we allocate water is a priority for the Government. We are working with regional councils, farmers and horticulturists to improve the way we use our water. We can’t make more water but we can use what we’ve got better. In doing so we can increase production in the rural sector and improve environmental outcomes.

The issues I have touched on are only some of the concerns that pass over my desk every day. I'd welcome any questions on these or other issues I haven't touched on. Yours is an important industry for us all. It is employment-rich, it has great potential and it is an earner of overseas money. We need to grow further, but to do it in such a way that our grandchildren will also be faced with the same opportunities. That is the essence of a sustainable economy.

Thank you

Supplementary notes:

A package of policy measures has been developed which addresses carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and industrial sectors. Three options are set out for consideration, centring around the timing of measures and the extent to which a low-level carbon charge should supplement domestic emissions trading in the transitional period (prior to 2008). The Government expects to make decisions on how it will address this issue soon.

While energy costs would increase as a result of a carbon charge or emissions trading, there would also be potential benefits to the agricultural sector. The energy sector will be looking at ways to reduce their emission liability. Potentially then, land users would have a unique opportunity by trading carbon credits for certain land management practices and land uses changes which sequester carbon. Looking further out in the future, science may provide the certainty and quantitative detail of the causes and effects to allow the trading of CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions where these are affected by land use and agricultural management practices.


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