The government of New Zealand has caused controversy with its suggestion of a “Belch Tax” on the greenhouse gases produced by farm animals through burping and urinating. The proposal, which the government claims would be a world first, aims to combat climate change and would see farmers able to recover the cost through the sale of climate-friendly goods.
However, the farming industry has fiercely opposed the scheme, with Federated Farmers, the leading lobbying group, stating that it would “rip the guts out of small-town New Zealand” and lead to the replacement of farms with trees. Andrew Hoggard, president of Federated Farmers, also highlighted that farmers have been working with the government for over two years to develop an emissions reduction strategy, with the goal of “keeping farmers farming”. Hoggard warns that the Belch Tax could result in farmers selling their farms “so fast you won’t even hear the dogs barking on the back of the ute (pickup truck) as they drive off.”
New Zealand’s farming sector plays a crucial role in the country’s economy, with dairy being the main export and a key ingredient in infant formula production in China. Opponents of the Belch Tax, including MPs from the conservative ACT Party, have argued that the scheme could actually increase global emissions by shifting farming to countries with less efficient food production.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time that farm animals in New Zealand have faced the prospect of being taxed for their emissions. In 2003, a previous administration proposed charging methane emissions, but the idea was met with strong resistance from farmers and mockingly referred to as a “fart tax”. The proposal was eventually dropped.
Farms are a significant contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately half of the total. These emissions include methane from cow burps and nitrous oxide from urine. With such a large farming sector in the country – there are 10 million beef and dairy cattle and 26 million sheep, in a population of only 5 million people – it is no surprise that the government’s Belch Tax proposal has caused such a backlash. It remains to be seen whether the tax will be implemented, but it is clear that finding a solution to the issue of farm animal emissions will be a challenging task.