Mike Joy’s foray into the US will largely fall upon deaf ears, claims Guy Trafford. But the risks from synthetic milks are a greater long-term threat to New Zealand dairying he reckons

Mike Joy’s foray into the US will largely fall upon deaf ears, claims Guy Trafford. But the risks from synthetic milks are a greater long-term threat to New Zealand dairying he reckons

Most would believe that dairying has its fair share of problems on the farm. Water quality, carbon emissions, and welfare issues are rolled out on an almost daily basis as reasons to “get rid of dairying” and there are certainly good reasons to improve the status of all the above.

The latest broadside has, yet again, come from Dr Mike Joy aided by journalist David Larsen. Published as an opinion piece in the New York Times it has drawn widespread criticism from almost everyone in New Zealand.

Even the mainstream media seem to think Joy has gone too far this time.

On a positive side, having read the article it is fairly light weight and I suspect most Americans, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the article, will have moved on very quickly.

Those readers who are concerned about the environment have far greater fires to fight than worry about what is happening in a corner out of sight. With Trump denying climate change and seemingly not to support the G7 in their attempts to help and pressure Brazil to limit damage to the Amazon, New Zealand’s situation must appear, except to the most committed, a minor sideshow.

Probably the most Joy and Larsen have got out of their exercise is highlighting their names in New Zealand, however this time not so favourably.

The unfortunate aspect of their style of journalism is that it leaves no room for a balanced discussion. Rolling off loose facts presents a very lop-sided view of an industry which is working hard to catch-up and mitigate past damage. The fact that since the peak numbers of 2014 dairy cow numbers have fallen by 260,000 (2018) and limits on N leaching have been imposed along with limits on irrigation and so forth were overlocked by Joy and co. These aren’t providing a perfect response by any means, but they are moving environmental impacts in the right direction. If Joy and others got their way and removed every last cow from New Zealand impacts on water ways would still be measurable for some time as the soil reservoir has built up quite a store for years to ahead regardless of what actions are taken today.

What we do know is that dairying brings in $14.4 billion in exports and nothing else can do that. It is perhaps pertinent to note in a similar time frame to the 260,000 dairy cow reduction there was an increase in individual vehicles in New Zealand of around 700,000 with a corresponding increase in GHG’s of around 743kts while all of agriculture reduced over the same period by 410kts. While Lotto still keep advertising V8 vehicles for Father’s Day prizes, it makes you realise as a nation we have quite a mind shift to go through on this whole debate yet.

Subsituting synthetic chemistry for agriculture

Perhaps what is more concerning than what is being written in the NYT is the news that there is a race on to develop a laboratory based cheese.

While the potential manufacturers haven’t cracked this nut yet it does sound as though they are getting close. It is almost a given, as with meat and wool a long time ago, a non-natural version is only a matter of time before milk has a lab-based competitor.

We can probably also assume in matters of taste it will be very competitive with the natural product and also be cheaper to produce with less “environmental problems”. What remains to be seen is whether it can replicate the positive natural attributes that mammal milk has.

To date natural milk has stood head and shoulders above plant based competitors, to the point where it is illegal to raise children under 4 on a vegan diet. However, when a product is produced that can be turned into cheeses and other milk based products then the threat starts to become a bit more real.

New Zealand dairy and meat products have been able to show that they compete favourably against their plant based counter parts on carbon foot prints, nutrition and even (in several cases) water usage. How the ‘new wave’ of synthetic products compare remains to be seen. One thing we do know is that there are “no free lunches” in producing anything, that defies the (current) laws of physics.

Probably the greater question is how the consumer views these products. If, as some are saying, they will largely end up in the commodity ingredients space then the public may not necessarily know and purchase based upon price.

The challenge to our processors is to make sure the consumers who purchase New Zealand products do understand where their products come from.

Assuming New Zealand cheese can be made with lower water, carbon emissions, higher nutrition attributes and produced ethically then ‘we’ should be able to compete.

However, specifically when it comes to dairying from our largest processor there does appear to be an element of’ head in the sand’ mentality. The back-to-basics approach has the risk of leaving Fonterra further and further behind these new age competitors. Part of this is understandably due to the tight financial straits it has got itself into, but dairy farmers may pay, yet again, into the future if Fonterra cannot somehow get its head above the parapet and start promoting the positive attributes its products have.

Being stuck as a commodity producer will eventually end in tears.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

62 Comments

Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).

Bring back soy sausage. I loved that stuff!

... the hooded seal mother gives off a milk containing 60 % fat .... many times that of the humble land cow ...

Fonterrible ought to research floating milk platforms for open ocean harvesting of hooded seal milk ....

... the tamar wallabies milk is 15 % sugar .. you just need to add flavorings.... we should start farming them too . .

Nuffink wrong with good ol' Soylent Green.....

It's a matter of efficiency. Sometimes a cow shaped bioreactor will be more efficient and effective than bacteria in a vat. That could change over time.

And when it does it will be fast. Telephone conquered telegraph in 3 years despite an expert of the time saying it would never catch on because people would have to do the message sending themselves (1870). How long did Betamax hang on for and when did you last buy an LP? They were building canals up to 1830 and then it was only railways.
It starts when the first fairly poor customer has a choice of genuine NZ milk from grass fed cows or an alternative that tastes the same, contains the same proteins (maybe with more and better), is approved by Doctors and costs 5 cents less. Expect a profitable dairy farm to change to losses within a single season. Could have a bigger effect on our economy than the Christchurch earthquake.

It becomes a matter of marketing the conventional product which may become a niche. Commodity product such as milk powder could take a hammering at the start, but synthetic production on a large scale has a number of logistics problems to solve.

Niche product. Similar to buying vinyl music. Not much difference between losing 95% or the market and losing 100%. At least an NZ dairy farm will be a tourist attraction.

Whatever logistics problems exist for synthetic milk, they're less than the logistics problems that exist for NZ grass fed milk.

Just think, China will be able to make their own milk to supply each city, they won't have to deal with international transport...

The deciding factor will indeed be price. The niches of cow-sourced ice cream, yoghurt, milk etc will become much like organic food: mostly the domain of higher earning consumers. For everyone else in the world, it will come down to cost.....and I 100% expect with our increasing population vs ecological challenges, the resultant supply challenges will push "traditional" food costs up. Then no one will care if bacterium produced their milk. Nor will they care if their meat was grown in an artificial bioreactor. Rod Slater wrote an article decrying the push of vegan products and point-of-view, but he is missing a bigger threat to the industry he is a figurehead for. NZ must stop thinking in agrarian terms and think more in technological terms. What can bring in $14+ billion dollars? Quite a lot of things, if we wish to maintain an educated populace.

I read Mike Joy's NYT article, and yeah, I'm with you - it won't make one iota of difference to Americans - or perhaps anyone for that matter. Because, I think the global public has reached "peak alarmism" and Mike Joy's article demonstrated why. Once, scientist's brought objectivity and rationality to matters of public interest (for example Rachel Carson), but more lately they have taken on a more alarmist style and combative approach - which is evident in the language used. Too much sloganeering and not enough constructive, solutions-orientated thinking.

I assume it's because they have personally become so very frustrated with the fact that environmental indicators just keep getting worse and worse.

But frustration and derogatory blame gaming isn't the answer to my mind. I think it's time that scientists stopped seeing themselves as champions of "speaking truth to power" and instead put their hat in the democratic ring to take on the mantle of power themselves. Regional councils would be a great place to start such a political career if one is an environmental scientist committed to activism and change.

Am I right in thinking that the closest we have to an academically trained environmental scientist in Parliament is Gerry Brownlee with an undergraduate zoology degree? Point is, it all comes down to the quality of our representatives, so scientists need to be the difference, as opposed to bemoan the difference.

Maggie Thatcher had a degree in Chemisry and she was concerned about CO2 emissions but was happy to ignore 365 expert economists. Vote scientist!

What did the 365 economists advise her to do which she ignored?

see https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3623669/How-364-econom...

I apologise for exaggeration.

She inceased taxes massively!

Fascinating story. And the moral of the story....

Don't vote economists!

Gerry Brownlee twice failed his University entrance exam and was a woodworking teacher prior to entering Parliament. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerry_Brownlee

So, have we got any natural science degree members of Parliament? Anyone?

National's Parmjeet Parmar PhD in neuroscience is about it I think. Would personally like to see a lot more Science and Technology grads and a lot less pol sci and arts grads given rapid march of technology.

I agree. I wonder whether someone has complied a list of MPs by their highest qualification. If someone did, that could be a very useful bit of information for the electorate.

In general there seems to be an inverse relationship between academic qualification and natural talent for politics. UK's best foreign secretary was Ernest Bevin who quoting Wikipedia ""He later recalled being asked as a child to read the newspaper aloud for the benefit of adults in his family who were illiterate. At the age of eleven, he went to work as a labourer"". Whereas my choice for the man who was worst PM might be Harold Wilson who was the most highly academically qualified of any UK politician.

Inverse relationship implies you mean we need fewer Parliamentarians/politicians with academic qualification? Do you really believe that in this day and age?

If 50% had no degree it would be doing better and be more representative. I do admit a knowledge of law is a real advantage if you are framing and passing laws. [Incidentally I do have a Bsc and I'd be a crap politician].

That surprises me. Perhaps unreasonably, I've held a general expectation that doctors of neuroscience would speak intelligently.

Has she said stupid things?

Interesting, thanks for the link! It's likely more a cultural thing associated with the Indian caste system - she hasn't necessarily got a low emotional quotient (EQ), as that is a Western cultural notion, associated with egalitarianism - i.e., all men being created equal. Her responses reflect her caste/class - i.e., let them eat cake.

Oddly enough, it is the way many, if not most, National politicians think, but as the reporter points out the Key's and the Joyce's (i.e., the Westerners) are more skilled at NOT saying what they think.

Agree that Key and Joyce are better at softening their words even when still coming out with sentiments like "all lazy bludgers grabbing a benefit and doing drugs" etc.

Good point re power gap and natural expectation that the people of lesser inherent value will just accept what you say. Have seen this to terrible degrees living in countries with a wide power gap.

But it was the overall simplistic nature of some comments that also seemed particularly striking, as if little thought was put into the arguments at all and instead, simple talkback level stereotypes were adopted with entirely too much credulity.

It was Joyce who had the zoology degree - I was sure there had been someone with a BSc!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Joyce

... didn't Clare Curran have a post graduate diploma in communications ?

She has a BA double major in Anthropology and History from the University of Otago, and BA Honours in Anthropology from Victoria University of Wellington. from Wiki.

Her ministerial responsibilities were totally unsuited to her educational background.

... true ... but Jumbo Gerry was a woodwork teacher .... and look at the fiasco that much of the Christchurch rebuild has been ....

Yep, ideally we'd have had a minister with a background in engineering, architecture, geology or geography for that one. Instead we put a teacher in charge - how could we expect better?

Simon Bridges has a postgraduate law degree at St Catherine's College, Oxford. He must be brainy. Then again Golriz Ghahraman also studied at Oxford.

Rachel Carson was a great expounder of deliberate lies and exaggerations to make her point. Silent Spring, which sold a lot of copies, and made her a lot of money, was a classic example of this. In 1967, when I first read it, it was a load of rubbish, and still is.
2nd point: On a secret vote referendum, most Kiwis would say our cows are not wrecking the atmosphere with their methane, and if the dairy farmers were forced to pay the full costs of their operation, they would be clean, and they would not have paid as much for them in the first place.

Whenever I read Guys dairy support articles his major defence seems to be "What we do know is that dairying brings in $14.4 billion in exports and nothing else can do that."
So do we hold off looking at dairy issues until Fonterra finally collapses into nothing while at the same time their policy of shipping cows to China develops the industry there to a level, which combined with substitutes being developed, means they can shop around for cheaper tops up than currently available from NZ?

I thought the same when reading that line. IMO what is more important than balance of trade is tax paid by the sector at large.

If we don't have balance of trade then that inevitably leads to slow loss of ownership of NZ - and get into a runaway loss as more and more interest is remitted overseas - it's unsustainable. We currently have net overseas debt of about $160 billion, that we have to pay (at guessed 3%) ~5-billion interest on, though likely more. That's about half of our total current account deficit. It's going to get much worse with shuttering of oil and gas industry, and efforts to hamstring agricultural exporters. We desperately need to reduce imports or grow exports but NZ's left seem not to care.

Sure I understand that in theory. But there is a huge amount of room to significantly reduce imports - and from an agricultural point-of-view, the most costly of the inputs to production are imported anyway. So, if we reduce production there is a benefit where the balance of trade is concerned. It's more a matter of whether (in reducing our export income) we end up with stranded assets (i.e., sunk costs in goods already imported - plant and machinery). I don't see that as a big issue.

So, it then comes down to how we pay off private sector debt (particularly in the ag sector) - and I've always been interested in the concept of debt jubilee. So, central government (via tax and borrowing) introduces policy to pay down ag industry debt via a de-intensification model. Government debt isn't our problem.

Our current account deficit has been at about 4% of GDP for nearly 50 years and debt has now reached greater than 50% of GDP, Thankfully interest rates are currently low, slowing the drain but it is a political non-starter to imagine that NZ population will be willing to forego the luxuries they are used to to fix this. Only realistic method for govt to balance the books is to do things that increase exports, that means some combination of more mining agriculture and tourism - all of which seem unacceptable to hard left.

I disagree. Many, if not the majority, of NZers are doing it hard as it is - in other words, are not living a life of luxury - far from it.

What luxuries are you referring to?

Everyone in NZ live lives of luxury compared to majority of world, even those we call impoverished are well-off compared to global average or NZers of 60 years ago with better food, clothing, health, entertainment etc. We import $76 billion a year in goods. $15k per person, $40/day/person. 20% of GDP. Medical goods, Fuel, Bitumen, Food, Computers, Coffee, Chocolate, Travel, Tyres, Homewares, Paints, Appliances, Clothing, Shoes, Building Materials, Vehicles, Electronic Entertainment, Toys. No govt that tries to cut that off or otherwise engineers a drop in standards of living is going to retain power.

The good old Kiwi limited thinking: "we export primary industry stuff and import temporary people (tourists and some slaves on working visas) from which to liberate the contents of their wallet/available credit balance". I recall reading that IT is our 3rd largest export earning category - and the fastest growing. May it be our largest export earner very soon!

https://www.ecoliteracy.org/article/fossil-food-consuming-our-future

Although most NZ journalists have had this put in front of them, or will have read my postings.

None, repeat none, had addressed it. Yet it is the Titanic argument to the feed-the-passenger brigade.

This morning I taught the grandchildren this song in the car on the way to school - lol

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHPOzQzk9Qo

Made me look up the survival rate on the Titanic - 67%.

You're a gem , Kate : the perfect response to the tin foil hat brigade , whilst being crucified .... heee heeeee ...

Guy : $ 14 billion in an economy with GDP of $ 300 billion is just 5 % ...

... so , dairy farmers should get off their high horse about being " the backbone " of the economy ... just the tail bone more likely ....

And , what squirts out of an orifice right next to the tail bone ..... hmmmmmm ?

The export earnings they bring in are absolutely critical to NZ's economy. We need to pay for all those iphones, TVs, coffeemakers, Audis and foreign holidays so loved by rich urbanites, and NZD would tank (making us all poor) if our balance of trade deficit were to blow out.

I see you've answered the question I asked above. Your generalisations aren't generalisations. You are talking about some 5% of the population, if even that.

..if you're focus is on dairy... then the income will be from dairy. If they paid there way by not destroying the assets of the common, then other activities would fill the gap. I really have an issue of having to pay farmers not to put nitrogen in pollute lakes and waterways..

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/84656186/mike-joy-the-...

I'm happy to see the export income come from any industry, but I see no sign that NZ is capable of growing other industry to replace agricultural export earnings. We're too small and lack economies of scale/network effects that enable high tech competitiveness and too distant with too high wages to compete in most tech tradeables. Highly mechanised farming is one area in which we enjoy a competitive edge. Only other hope is revolutionising cheap air freight or cheap supersonic air travel to grow horticulture or tourism (doable, but not without visionary govt support).

There was a great programme about synthetic dairy, and it’s potential impact for New Zealand, on Radio NZ on Sunday: https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/insight/audio/2018709853/milk-...

Coomon Guy...this is bdust. The msm have been ignoring the issue for years. This is exactly why the likes of Mike Joy go offshore to raise the issues - because they see such biased reporting here - yourself included.

Take a challenge. Go live on live debate with Mike Joy ....live stream it and face each other with facts.

You wouldn't dare because he would undress you in public...and there wouldn't be a fed farmers rep out there who would either. They save themselves for a lite weight unchallenged chat on 7 sharp (as per last night).

...oooo ... a duel ... frozen yoghurts at dawn ... images of Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West meeting Two Ton Ted from Teddington springs to mind ...

What a joy it would be to see if Guy is the guy to step up to the mike ...

Yes in twenty years our children will say why didn't anyone say anything but in fact the messenger keeps getting shot.
Heres Mike Joy at the BBC getting discounted by National's top scientist way back in 2011 - lets face it everyone who can face reality knows that 100% Pure is BS as was National's top 'scientist'
https://www.noted.co.nz/archive/archive-listener-nz-2011/john-keys-unhap...

Have you seen Mike Joy debate with people who can truly debate? It would be great to see a debate between him and Dr Jacqueline Rowarth. But I doubt that he would ever accept the challenge. Dr Rowarth was interviewed by Jamie MacKay in regards to the NY Times article. One of the statements Joy made - 10million cows (female stock) was discussed. There are not 10million cows in NZ as stated by Joy. There are 10m cattle of which approx 6m are dairy cattle and the rest beef cattle (cattle=male and female). Given one of the first statements Joy made in his article was a not true, the credibility of the message of what he says thereafter is called in to question.

Here you go - Professor Rowarth v Dr. Joy debating - the two audio clips are linked at the bottom of the page;

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/the-country/news/article.cfm?c_id=16&objectid...

Worth listening to.

On cows v cattle - picky, picky - the general public don't make the distinction - from Wiki;

Cattle—colloquially cows—are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates.

10 million is 10 million in terms of the environmental effects (waste and emissions) - although the overall ecological footprint of dairy is of course higher.

Thanks Kate. Three years old now but the facts and data of Dr Joy becoming more relevant by the day.

Would have been nice for Mackay to have done an Erin Brockovich and offer the Professor a bottle of Canterbury Pure to whet her whistle.

Yes, by and large, the synthetic stuff will take over, however, there will still be demand, from those who are happy to pay, for the real thing, and those that want it will demand the best.
The best thing we could do for our future is stand our ground, stay well away from GE (I don't care how safe it may or may not be, there are those who will pay to avoid it) and be unique and do the exact opposite. If we elect to join the crowd we will be left way behind, mainly by dint of geography

Guy, no-one in their right minds wants to get rid of dairying. The problem at the moment is that there has been a mad rush to expand dairy into marginal land. This was criminally aided and abetted by the previous National Government who deposed elected councillors and made a political appointment as a Commissioner in Environment Canterbury to facilitate in the consenting of irrigation schemes in Canterbury. The result has been concerning environmental damage, industrial style operations, and large outfits running debt levels that are hard to service in this era of increasing uncertainty about the market for milk powder in China. The big heavily mortgaged "factory farmers" do not engender sympathy amongst the general public when they stuff cattle into sheds for half the year, and then stuff high stock numbers into paddocks turned into mud wallows for the second half of the year. The news of Canterbury aquifers being poisoned by nitrate pollution is alarming. The Maniototo is another example of corporate greed, people jumping onto the bandwagon late in the boom, and whacking in far too many stock onto marginal land that no-one in their right minds previously considered suitable for dairying. Many adverse environmental effects are resulting from this corporate greed. Changing nationally significant semi-alpine native tussock grassland landscapes to green grassland is environmental vandalism. So it is not surprising that Dairy NZ, John Deere et al. are spending money on spin at the moment. Instead of celebrating the success of a successful dairy industry with responsible operators, we are seeing cowboys running roughshod over the environment on unsuitable marginal land. If your precious dairy industry bothered to spend its millions of PR money on controlling its cowboys, dairying would be better respected. But sadly dairying spends its resources deflecting, denying, writing little articles like yours, and totally failing to get to grips with serious problems.

Agree - no one wants to get rid of dairying altogether. And yes, bypassing democracy in Canterbury was to my mind despicable.

The Commissioner of Enviroment Canterbury position is like being in charge of the prisoner hospital at Dachau.
I can just see the scene when the Nats set it up.
"Well guys we got the con in on the bumpkins down in Canterbury. If you are visiting down there heres some water from Pripyat I got in that will be safer for you.
Now I need some buffoon to be our Commissioner. Gerry, Smiffy, either of you free?"
"Sorry John I am too busy driving the rebuild into the ground and I think Smithy is too wound up pushing thru a dam for his mates in Nelson. What about Paula Benefit?"

"While Lotto still keep advertising V8 vehicles for Father’s Day prizes, it makes you realise as a nation we have quite a mind shift to go through on this whole debate yet"
For low socio economic and impoverished people, lotto and v8s both have appeal