The return of mad cows?

The infamous four breasted anti-GE image produced by MAdGE

Remember MAdGE?

This was a group of trendy, bored Remuera housewife-types Mothers Against Genetic Engineering led by former 1980’s pop star Alannah Currie, who were – unsurprisingly – against genetic engineering.

MAdGE was probably more famous for its soft-porn poster of a four-breasted woman or its members taking off their tops in Parliament’s public gallery rather than anything it actually achieved. The group suddenly appeared on the scene in 2002 and then disappeared just as quickly a year or so later. 

MAdGE claimed that genetic engineering posed the greatest threat to mankind since – well – the last biggest threat to mankind. Fanned by conspiracy theories and pseudo-science, Currie and her cohorts believed that GE was the likely cause for everything from cross-pollinated ‘Franken food’ to mad cow disease.  

Thankfully, Currie quickly got bored with lecturing people about the evils of GE and took off back to the UK and reinvented herself as artist-upholsterer. Her group was the precursor to the next lot of uninformed, bored Remuera housewives types who now, a decade later, are protesting about the next greatest threat to mankind – climate change.

Ironically, today’s climate change female warriors (worriers) are also led by another middle-aged, scaremongering ‘artist’ – actress Robyn Malcolm! (Let’s hope she too can find a new career, may be as polar bear taxidermist in Iceland, and saves us from her ill-informed lectures about global warming)

Anyway, just like one of Currie’s awful 1980’s Thomson Twins tunes, the anti-GE conspiracy theories could be on the comeback following recent media reports revealing a potential cover up of research about genetic engineering.

News that a report critical of AgResearch’s practices at its genetic engineering laboratories has sparked a war of words between the Canterbury University professor who wrote it and the Crown research institute.

Professor Jack Heinemann, from the university’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, was asked by GE Free New Zealand to look into AgResearch’s monitoring of the risk of horizontal gene transfers at its Ruakura facility.

His report looked at the agency’s offal holes containing genetically engineered cow carcasses and its monitoring of the risk of material from those pits contaminating the soil.  Heinemann found what he described as fundamental flaws in the monitoring of horizontal gene transfer from genetically modified animals disposed of in offal pits.

He said AgResearch was monitoring soil that was irrelevant because it was at the top of the offal pits, and not metres below, where the animals were buried. Heinemann said whenever signals were detected that the risk of a transfer existed, they were not rigorously pursued.

However, AgResearch says its monitoring programme is in line with best practice science and in seven or eight years of practice has not detected any measurable transfer of genetic material.

Meanwhile, research manager Jimmy Suttee says the CRI was entitled to seek out whoever it wished to refute the report’s claims, and that its monitoring methods at Ruakura were sound. Suttie also denied that the report damaged AgResearch’s reputation, saying he did not think the public understood the debate.

However, that is exactly the problem Dr Suttie – the public do not understand issues like GE and climate change. And this makes it easy for groups like MAdGE – and the global warming screamers – to sow seeds of doubt and talk about conspiracy theories.

They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. Organisations like AgResearch need to be open and honest about their research, so broken down pop singers, actresses and other mad cows can stick to their day jobs rather than stirring up unnecessary public concerns via pseudo science and scare tactics.

A bright outlook for NZ agribusiness

Here's looking at a bright future for NZ agricultural exports

The latest Situation and Outlook for New Zealand Agriculture and Forestry (SONZAF) paints an incredibly bright picture for NZ’s agriculture sector.

During the six year period, from 2010 to 2016, gross agricultural revenue is forecast to expand by some 45% from $22 billion to $32b.

As Federated Farmers’ Phillip York says: “This must be a major cause for celebration for all New Zealanders because these export dollars directly pay for health, education and social services.”

However, before anyone starts cracking the champagne it should be noted that SONZAF has used Treasury’s Budget forecasts with the Kiwi dollar projected to fall back to historic averages by 2015. This values the NZ dollar at US58 cents and UK30 pence, whereas it currently sits at 80c and 50p respectively.

Despite this, the overall picture for New Zealand’s primary sector is very good with a lack of supply and strong demand for our products driving prices. What’s more, the outlook is strong in the long-term.

“The food security debate that’s happening internationally means that being a food producing nation is an exceptionally good place to be, especially a food producing nation that’s at the top end of the market with quality and integrity,” says MAF’s deputy director general Paul Stocks. “Frankly, I can’t think of a better place for this country to be in.”

And not many would disagree with these sentiments.

Not surprisingly it’s the dairy industry that’s leading the boom, with growing milk supply and strong international prices. Meanwhile, for the first time in many years, meat and wool farmers have smiles on their faces. Lamb exports this year are expected up 9.7% to $2.7b and to reach $3.7b by 2015.

Wool prices are another piece of good news with values predicted to hold. The report suggests beef export prices in US dollars will fall slowly over the next two years, but beef export value will rise from the present $2b to $2.6b by 2015.


Dairy: The strong demand driving commodity price rises is likely to remain, but additional milk supply in 2012 and beyond is expected to drive international prices down from current levels. MAF forecasts the milk price for the 2011-12 year at $6.87 a kilogram of milksolids, reflecting softening international prices as world supply starts to respond to increasing demand. Beyond 2012, the assumption of a depreciating New Zealand dollar drives most of the lift in the milk price, which is projected to be $8.64 in the 2014-15 year.

Lamb:  International prices are expected to fall over the next two years as flock numbers build in Australia and New Zealand, assuming average climate conditions. Over the remainder of the outlook period to 2015, international lamb prices are expected to increase slowly as sheep numbers continue to decline in Britain and Europe and wealth improves in the Middle East and China.

Wool: Prices are likely to remain high this year and to gradually rise on constrained supply and rising incomes over the following three years. Average sale prices are estimated to be up by 32 per cent, to 503c a kg of clean wool for the year just ending the year ending and to average 515c over the outlook period.  This compares with the five-year average to 2010 of 376c.

Beef:  Export prices are expected to fall slowly over the next two years.

Further out, growing incomes and population in Asian and other developing countries, along with increasing production, mostly in developing countries, should result in rising prices as supply lags behind demand. By 2015, beef export value is projected to be $2.6 billion.

Deer: The average stag schedule price for the year just ending is estimated at $7.25 a kg, down slightly on last year, reflecting the erosion of an appreciated Kiwi dollar against the Euro. A projected increase in schedule prices from 2012 to 2015 is underpinned by growing overseas demand for venison.

Forestry: Demand is expected to remain strong, with Chinese growth continuing and the need for reconstruction following earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan and floods in Australia. Prices are expected to rise but further growth in harvest volumes in New Zealand will be constrained.

Kiwifruit: Total kiwifruit export volumes are expected to increase to 107 million trays for the year to March 2012, while export returns are forecast to be more than $1b. Gold kiwifruit volumes are expected to increase by 33%, to 28 million trays.

Apples: Average prices for New Zealand apples this year are expected to increase by 10% on last year. An orderly entry of fruit into the main markets will be critical to offset the high value of the Kiwi dollar.

Time to bridge NZ’s rural urban divide

It is time for New Zealand's agribusiness to stand out from the flock and make a united stand

You know agriculture is recognised as the best way for the country to get out of the hole it is in when accountancy firm KPMG starts calling for urban dwellers to gain a better understanding of the rural sector.

The usually “dry as Taihape on a Sunday” (as Barry Crump used to say) business advisory arm of KMPG makes this welcome recommendation – among a raft of other suggestions – in its recently released report on New Zealand’s primary industry Agribusiness Agenda 2011.

Do a quick Google search of farming or agriculture news articles and you will quickly find that negative headlines and stories dominate. While many people and organisations within New Zealand ‘Inc’ realise and understand the importance of the agribusiness and rural sector to the economic well being of our country, many others – especially urban dwellers – do not.

Despite the importance of agribusiness to NZ ‘Inc”, this has not stopped many parts of the sector from coming under sustained and frequent attack by different lobby and/or protests groups. Often many of these attacks are either ill-informed and/or malicious and can do a great deal of damage to New Zealand’s future way of life.

KPMG’s report – based on interviews with more than 80 agribusiness leaders – says this rural/urban gap is a risk to the future development of the country. The interviewees’ had numerous explanations for this disconnect including: an ethnically mixed urban population with little or no family link to farming; mainstream media focussing on negative issues about the agriculture sector such as animal welfare issues and water quality standards in dairy regions.

However, the report also points out that the agricultural sector must foot some of the blame for this divide. It says a lack of openness from the industry has led to urban dwellers to believe they are not getting the full story. This is a fair point; as is its suggestion that the onus must go on the rural sector itself to take the job of educating and informing the rest of the population as to how the industry operates and the economic benefits it generates for the country.

The underlying assertion of Agribusiness Agenda 2011 – although not overtly spelled out in the report – is it’s time for a new, pan-sector lobby group. New Zealand’s agribusiness sector is made up of a wide and diverse group of organisations and lobby groups. Yet despite the sector’s size, resources and undoubted importance to the country’s economic well-being, it is unable to speak as one, with a unified sector voice on matters.

This is mainly due to the different, specific interests of the various bodies that make up NZ agribusiness and a lack of a recognised sector organisation that can speak on all of its behalf. Thus making it almost impossible for a clear, united and unambiguous agribusiness sector view and making it much easier for critics and opponents to pick on different areas.

There is considerable upside in having an independent, unified sector advocate organisation and it is time for the agribusiness sector to seriously look at forming such a body. Such a move would go a long way to help bridge the growing urban/rural gap that currently divides New Zealand.

Gongs deserved for agribusiness royalty

Arise Sir Graeme...

It was great to see two of the agribusiness sector’s long-serving contributors acknowledged in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list.

Normally, such gongs are dished out to an array of anonymous luvvies from the theatre and arts world under Labour, and business leaders under National.  So it is good to see the agriculture sector getting some well-deserved recognition.

Meat baron Graeme Harrison knighthood for his lifetime efforts’ in the sector and John Roadley’s member of the New Zealand of Merit for his equally stellar contributions to the dairy industry are both equally deserved.

As the inaugural chairman of Fonterra and champion of co-operatively owned dairying, Roadley has now retired to a vineyard in Marlborough. He was the last chairman of the New Zealand Dairy Board and the first chairman of Fonterra, overseeing the industry’s transition from multiple local co-operatives to a single, farmer-owned company.

Roadley believes – and is probably right – that dairying had risen to the top of the farming sector because farmers controlled their industry, invested in research and adopted the technology in their farms and dairy plants.

As Roadley pointed out for about 15 years he and his wife Lois had been under constant pressure with no let-up, day or night.

“Farmers are hard taskmasters. It is nice to be recognised.”

Roadley’s involvement in dairy management began in 1988, when he became a director of the Alpine Dairy Co-operative in Temuka.

Meanwhile, Sir Graeme Harrison, founder of beef and lamb exporter Anzco Foods, says he’s been happy to spend his 40-year career in an out-of-fashion business.

Harrison is the most recent knight in a long line of New Zealand meat industry leaders to be similarly honoured. His message about New Zealand’s future prospects and where the country’s wealth is going to come from is simple.

He quotes Beef + Lamb New Zealand economist Rob Davison, who says: “As Silicon Valley is to California, agriculture is to New Zealand”.

“It is not only agriculture. New Zealand needs agriculture plus other industries. But the ones in which we have great strength and comparative advantage are agriculture, forestry, seafood and, like it or not, the mineral sector.”

Harrison started Anzco in 1984 as a sheepmeat marketing company for the farmer-owned Meat Producers Board.

It was successful, opening the door to a potentially lucrative Asian market. The board sold down its ownership in the 1990s and he and his staff kept a cornerstone shareholding. The remaining shares are held by Japanese food companies Itoham Foods, with 48 per cent, and Nippon Suisan Kaisha, with 25 per cent.

Today Anzco employs 2800 people, has assets of $500 million and revenues exceeding $1.2 billion.

Agribusiness – and New Zealand – should be grateful for the efforts of people like Harrison and Roadley who have made lifelong contributions to the sector. We are now looking to the next generation of sector heads – and future national honour holders – to lead the country get out of the big hole it is currently in.


Dairy and meat drive still drive NZ

Dairy and other farming exports are keeping NZ afloat

While the rest of the country slowly awakens from the mire of recession our agricultural sector keeps humming along.

Latest reports show that New Zealand’s traditional exports such as dairy products and meat have lead the country to its largest monthly trade surplus in nearly 20 years.

According to Statistics NZ, for the month of April 2011 we had a surplus of $1.1 billion or 24% of the value of exports – with total exports for the month valued at $4.7 billion, up $691 million (17%) from April 2010

Leading the country’s export surge was the milkpowder, butter and cheese commodity group, up $287 million (32%), spread over a range of markets.

Meat and edible offal were up $79 million (13%), led by frozen lamb cuts with bone in and frozen beef cuts. Meanwhile, other primary product exports were also up with wool increasing by $32m (58%) and forestry receipts growing by $41m (15%).

The figures also show that China provided exporters with the greatest boost, up $126m (27%) over a range of commodities.  The next largest increase was Algeria, up $88m to a level six times higher than April 2010, largely through imports of milkpowder and anhydrous milk fat.

“This is the highest monthly surplus ever recorded and the highest in almost 20 years as a percentage of exports,” says Statistics NZ overseas trade manager Neil Kelly.

“Contributing to the surplus, exports in April 2011 reached $4.7 billion, also a new high.”

So is there anyone out there who still does not think New Zealand’s current and future prosperity is inextricably linked to farming or the agriculture sector?

Phil Goff, Stuart Nash, Bernard Hickey et el please take note!