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Michael Wan headshot

Our Land, Our Farms, Our Future: Healthy Land Means Healthy People

New Zealand is proud of its Māori heritage and its commitment to the concept of 'Te Taiao.' This belief calls for a deep responsibility for the natural world, including the health of the climate, land, water and all living systems. Michael Wan of the farmer-owned industry organization Beef + Lamb New Zealand explains more.
By Michael Wan
New Zealand — green mountains and fields, lakes and blue sky — grazing land for farmers

To change the course of the way things are, we must imagine what could be. Some argue that eliminating all beef and lamb production is a solution to enhance environmental sustainability. Others assert that current meat alternatives are bad for health and the environment. So, what if we change not what we eat but how products are produced, focusing on improving and protecting the land, air, water and animal welfare? 

New Zealand is proud of its Māori heritage and its commitment to the concept of Te Taiao. This belief calls for a deep respect for and responsibility for the natural world, including the health of the climate, land, water and all living systems. When nature thrives, the belief is that so do our families, communities and businesses. 

Farming that respects the land, the animals and the farmers produces better products and coincides with a tangible shift in consumer behavior, as more want to understand where their meat products come from and how they are raised. And more growers are committed to creating a sustainable future for generations to come by farming positively for the planet and people. While some of these farm ideals are new to today's methods, it's how New Zealand has farmed for generations.  

New Zealand has wide open spaces and acres of verdant green land, which is a perfect formula for producing some of the best agricultural products in the world. We believe that the formula for excellent, great-tasting and nutritious products is deeply rooted in a farming philosophy that respects and cares for our animals that are grass-fed on farmlands. But it is not just the land that creates some of the most sought-after products. A holistic approach enables us to thrive, from sustainable farming to farming communities to animal welfare and environmental protection.  

Families of farmers

To understand the dedication to high-quality agricultural products from New Zealand, it is essential to understand the central role that farming plays in our regional and national economy, creating robust and multigenerational farm communities.  

There may be many voices regarding how to farm, but most agree that farmers and the communities they create are critical to our world. While many farms in the U.S. are small or family-owned, four companies comprise nearly 70 percent of all U.S. beef production. These companies often practice industrialized meat production, with feedlots focusing on maximum output and less on animal welfare and the environment. 

In New Zealand, over 90 percent of farms are family-owned, creating a multigenerational ecosystem that connects people to the land, animals and the environment. These family farms believe in a connected ecosystem central to regenerative agriculture. New Zealand's beef and lamb farmers use methods that have evolved over generations and are well-adapted to local environmental conditions. These methods conserve soils and waterways for future generations, support rural communities' social and economic fabric, and serve as a model for farmers worldwide. 

Care for animals 

In New Zealand, sheep and beef cattle are overwhelmingly free-range and pasture-fed, unlike conventional grain-fed or feedlot livestock. Thanks to our temperate climate, our animals can roam outside all year round, as nature intended.

New Zealand farmers are committed to raising animals humanely, and given our strict biosecurity and quality control processes, and our geographic isolation, our efforts have resulted in an animal disease-free status recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health. 

Our country is among the lowest global users of antibiotics in cattle and sheep production due to our extensive outdoor farming, which reduces the chance of infections spreading, as well as strict regulations that only permit antibiotic use for animal health reasons (under veterinary control). New Zealand farmers do not use hormone growth promotants (HGPs) or antibiotics to enhance production. Animals are only treated with antibiotics when necessary for the animal’s health and well-being, and all antibiotic use is reported.

Environmental care 

Compared to the global average, New Zealand beef farms produce fewer carbon emissions, with the sheep and beef sector aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050 – helping to make New Zealand beef the sustainable choice. 

Our farms are some of the most efficient producers in the world. The carbon footprint of sheep and beef production is estimated to be around half the global average, according to an on-farm Life Cycle Analysis using the traditional calculation approach with a warming-impact gas comparison metric called GWP100. An emerging calculation approach, using GWP*, which determines a carbon footprint based on a product’s actual contribution to the warming of the planet over a period of time rather than total emissions, shows that New Zealand sheep have not contributed to any additional warming in the last 20 years and are arguably climate neutral.  

New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity is unique; our farmers are kaitiaki — guardians — of the land. Nearly a quarter of New Zealand’s total native vegetation — including woody native vegetation such as mānuka/kānuka and other native plants such as tussock — grows on sheep and beef farms. Our lush country has added 2 million hectares (nearly 5 million acres) to the country’s conservation estate, the largest private sector contribution to biodiversity in New Zealand.

Quality control 

With a growing understanding that the world needs to produce food more sustainably comes increased scrutiny on validating farming methods. First introduced in 2017, the national New Zealand Farm Assurance Program (NZFAP) and the updated New Zealand Farm Assurance Program Plus seek to assure our international consumers that our products are, first and foremost, authentic, with independently verified best-practice animal raising and production assurance standards. 

Under this program comes assurances in terms of integrity, origin, traceability, biosecurity, environmental sustainability, and animal health and welfare, all essential ingredients for maximizing product returns and meeting the expectations of our diverse audience. With farmers audited every three years by an independent audit and certification body, the NZFAP delivers to both national and international food safety standards.  

Our commitment to a better future 

While there may be healthy disagreement on how to save our valuable environmental resources, we all agree that we need to make changes in every industry. We believe all producers can do better to reduce carbon emissions, prioritize animal welfare, and allow grass-fed herds to roam freely on sustainable farms. 

We believe in action versus reaction. The time is now for all producers to commit to making sustainable changes to create a viable future. We can collectively share information, learn from one another and fight for better outcomes. As we share our journey, we look forward to learning more about yours.

This article series is sponsored by Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

Image courtesy of Beef + Lamb New Zealand

Michael Wan headshot

I am passionate about powering purpose-led brands to success on the world stage. I currently head Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s global brand marketing function, backed by over 20 years of experience in strategic global marketing and communications roles.

Read more stories by Michael Wan