Tuesday, 06 August 2019 11:55

Just 0.04% of global emissions

Written by  Pam Tipa
Jeremy Hill, Fonterra. Jeremy Hill, Fonterra.

While New Zealand dairy may be a big chunk of this country’s inventory of greenhouse gas emissions (about 25%) it is relatively small as a component of total global emissions, says Fonterra chief scientist Jeremy Hill.

NZ dairy is just 0.04% of global emissions yet our dairy is consumed by one billion people annually.

That 0.04% is in “the margin of the margin of our ability to measure these things”, Hill told the ProteinTech19 conference in Auckland last week.

“So it has a big impact in the inventory of emissions in NZ but relatively small impact [as a component of] global emissions.”

We are leading the world in efficiency in greenhouse gases per litre of milk, he says.

Ninety five percent of NZ milk is exported. 

“We produce enough milk to provide the recommended daily intake, which is in the two-three serves, or 500-750ml, for 100 million people. Our actual dairy products in NZ are consumed by one billion people on average annually.”

The global food sector produces about 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Dairy globally is in the 2-3% range with its contribution to emissions.

He points out that all greenhouse gas figures are an estimate. No one is measuring accurately enough to produce definite figures but he is confident of that 20-30% figure for all agriculture.

NZ emissions as a whole are so low you can’t count them in the global perspective.

“Whereas agriculture is contributing 50% of NZ’s emissions, NZ as a whole -- and I don’t think this is understood well -- isn’t making a big impact globally.

“But we have an opportunity -- because we need to solve NZ’s inventory contribution -- to do our bit for the world. But in solving NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions we have to solve it for agriculture probably more than anywhere else in the world. 

“In the OECD the next country would be Ireland with about 30% of its emissions coming from agriculture. You go [to Australia] and it’s less than 10%. 

“So we have to solve it for our own inventory reasons. But if we can find solutions that can help -- which will be deployable elsewhere in the world -- we can make a big difference.”

Hill says the global food system is “hellishly complex” and it is not sustainable and needs to improve. 

Reports over the past five years, including the EAT-Lancet report, have looked at how to feed the world’s population a healthy diet using sustainable practices. The report showed that when the world population gets to 9.8 -10 billion, global milk production will need to double to meet the daily recommended intake.

You may as well eat sawdust

Not all proteins are created equal and a big difference is the bio-availability of nutrients -- the ability to be digested, Hill says. 

He says no one has done longitudinal studies on the health impacts of alternative ‘milks’. 

Proteins are not a nutrient but a nutrient delivery ‘system’, he says. The nutrients are the individual amino acids and there are 20 of them. About half of those are called indispensable amino acids. We can’t synthesise them, we have to consume them.

 “Different proteins have different amino acids in different combinations. They don’t have the same ratios of these indispensable amino acids, nor do they have the same digestibility.

“Soy protein, unless you go through some fairly intensive processing, cannot be made digestible.”

Work is underway to develop new methodology on bio-availability endorsed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation at    the United Nations which originated at the Reddit Institute in New Zealand.

The work “is very important for global sustainability,” says Hill.

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