New Zealand on Tuesday announced a proposal to tax greenhouse gases produced by farm animals, including burps and urination, as part of its efforts to tackle climate change.
According to the country’s government, the proposed tax on farms will be the first in the world. She also said farmers should be able to recover costs by raising prices for climate-friendly products.
The move infuriated New Zealand farmers, with the Federal Farmers’ Group, the industry’s main lobbying group, saying the plan would “rip the guts out of a small New Zealand town” and lead to trees being replaced by farms.
Farmers Union President Andrew Hoggard said farmers had been trying to work with the government for more than two years on a plan to reduce emissions without reducing food production.
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“Our plan was to keep the farmers cultivating,” Hoggard said, adding that farmers would instead sell their farms “so fast that you wouldn’t even hear the dogs barking on the back of the pickup truck as they drove.”
Opposition lawmakers from the conservative ACT party said the proposal would increase emissions around the world by moving agriculture to other less efficient food-producing countries.
The farming industry in New Zealand is critical to the country’s economy, with dairy products being the country’s largest source of exports.
The country has nearly 10 million cattle and dairy cattle and 26 million head of sheep, compared to just five million people.
About half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from farms. The reasoning behind the proposal, which could potentially help climate change, is based on the idea that farm animals produce gases that warm the planet, particularly methane from livestock burps and nitrous oxide from their urine.
The New Zealand government has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the country carbon-neutral by 2050. As part of this plan, the country said it will reduce methane emissions from farm animals by 10% by 2030 and by up to 47% by 2050.
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Farmers will be required to start paying for emissions in 2025 under the new proposed scheme, with pricing not yet finalised.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the money raised from the proposed tax would go to the agricultural industry to fund new technology, research and incentive payments to farmers.
“New Zealand farmers are set to be the first to reduce agricultural emissions in the world, positioning our largest export market for the competitive advantage they bring in a world increasingly aware of where their food comes from,” Ardern said.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the proposal represented an exciting opportunity for the country and its farmers.
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“Farmers are already suffering from the impact of climate change with more droughts and regular floods,” O’Connor said. “Taking the lead on agricultural emissions is good for the environment and our economy.”
The Liberal Labor government’s plan mirrors a similar failed proposal made by a previous Labor government in 2003 to tax farm animals for methane emissions.
At the time, farmers criticized the idea, and the political opposition criticized it as a “fart tax”. However, most methane emissions come from belching, not gases. The New Zealand government eventually abandoned the proposal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.