New Zealand's proposals to tax methane emissions from sheep and cattle in the name of reducing greenhouse gases has been described by those in the cattle business in Australia as superficial, based on misguided methodology and damaging.
In releasing its draft plan to make NZ the first country to have farmers pay for emissions from livestock, the country's climate change minister said there was no question the amount of methane being put into the atmosphere needed to be cut and an effective emissions pricing system for agriculture would play a key part in achieving that.
The proposal includes incentives for farmers who reduce emissions through initiatives such as feed additives. Revenue from the scheme will be invested in research, development and advisory services for farmers, NZ media reported.
Chair of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework's steering committee Mark Davie said the plan was damaging in the message it sent, particularly to the consumer.
"It is taking the conversation away from methane's role in the biogenic carbon cycle and positioning it like other fossil fuel emissions that don't exist as part of cycle," he said.
"It's looking at the global challenge of climate challenge and going for a superficial solution."
Where climate change and food systems are concerned, the factors to weigh up are far more complex than just animal gases, scientists and cattle producers have long argued.
"In the European Union, they are making herd reductions to address climate change, yet we have people still hungry around the globe," Mr Davie said.
"We have to lean into biogenic solutions, the answers are there. But this isn't one of them."
New Zealand has double as many cattle as people and more than five times as many sheep.
NZ media reported that under the draft plan, put together by government and farm community representatives, farmers will have to pay for their gas emissions from 2025. Short-and long-lived farm gas will be priced separately, although a single measure to calculate their volume will be used.
A final decision on the tax is expected by the end of the year.
Households will pay
Agricultural representatives in Australia also say should a similar tax be introduced in Australia it would serve to drive up grocery prices.
NSW Farmers president James Jackson said it was crazy that agriculture was the only industry that actively removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and they're talking about taxing farmers instead of the big emitters.
"This is based on some faulty logic that came out of Kyoto, and it's really just placing slogans ahead of science," he said.
"Agricultural businesses turn carbon dioxide into food every single day, and we have already done a lot of heavy lifting in terms of efficiencies, soil health and vegetation - we need better technology, not taxes, to reduce emissions."
In Australia, the cost of living and household groceries has been an increasing concern for families, and Mr Jackson warned a tax on biogenic methane here would ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher food prices.
"A tax on livestock will become a tax on meat and dairy, and it's Australian households who'll ultimately end up paying it," Mr Jackson said.