NZ First's Shane Jones, Mark Patterson blast 'eat less meat' advice in climate teaching resource

New Zealand First MPs Shane Jones and Mark Patterson are speaking out against a new climate change teaching resource that advises students to eat less meat to save the planet. 

The resource, announced on Sunday by Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Climate Change Minister James Shaw, tells students how they can help to reduce emissions, including advice to "eat less meat and dairy". 

Jones, a Cabinet minister, slammed the dietary advice, telling Newshub he "grew up on a farm unlike a lot of these green apostles" and said he regularly feeds his children "copious amounts" of fish and other meats. 

"I don't want the politically correct brigade colonising my dietary habits - it will never, ever happen... Schools have absolutely no authority to stigmatise and demonise us meat-eaters."

Jones, the Minister for Regional Economic Development, said he would prefer that school teachers "taught the mokopunas to read, write, and count... not make them afraid of eating meat". 

The minister's comments followed a tweet by Mark Patterson, NZ First's spokesperson for agriculture, who said he's "all for teaching the science of climate change" but described the dietary advice as "out of context". 

He said grass-fed New Zealand dairy, beef and lamb "have a much lower carbon footprint" than overseas grain-fed factory farm systems. 

"While the move to teach the science of climate change in schools should be commended we shouldn't seek to overreach and deliver simplistic and potentially misleading information," Patterson told Newshub. 

"From what I've seen, the proposed curriculum fails to differentiate that the environmental footprint of grass-fed NZ dairy and red meat is significantly less than that of grain-fed farming systems used overseas."

Patterson said vegan alternatives are "often highly processed, genetically modified and can have a larger environmental footprint so they are not necessarily the dietary nirvana that they are portrayed as".

He added, "This is complex stuff which shouldn't be dumbed down into simplistic messaging."

New Zealand First MP Mark Patterson.
New Zealand First MP Mark Patterson. Photo credit: Getty

Gen Toop, Greenpeace New Zealand agriculture campaigner, told Newshub Patterson was "untruthful" to say that the New Zealand dairy herd is grass-fed. 

"The dairy industry imports around 2.3 million tonnes of PKE [palm kernel extract] as feed for dairy cows. PKE is certainly not grass and it is linked to deforestation in Indonesia."

Toop said as wildfires sweep Australia, it's "disappointing to see Government representatives continue to play politics with the climate crisis". 

She said agriculture is "by far New Zealand's largest climate emitter - causing 49 percent of our emissions... The dairy herd alone emits more than the entire transport sector". 

"Any politician serious about the climate emergency would accept the fact that there are too many cows, rather than berate educators for telling the truth."

Patterson said there is "danger" in "underplaying the nutritional benefits of dairy and red meat in a balanced diet", telling Newshub it can help with iron deficiency. 

"It will certainly be a topic for discussion when our caucus next meets."

New Zealand First MP and Cabinet minister Shane Jones.
New Zealand First MP and Cabinet minister Shane Jones. Photo credit: Getty

Jones and Patterson aren't the first MPs to criticise the teaching resource's advice to students to consume less meat, as well as other aspects of the material. 

National MP Scott Simpson said there are "some issues around dietary dogma, for instance, and the call to activism, and issues around how to handle people who have a different point of view - so-called deniers".

ACT leader David Seymour has questioned aspects of the resource such as an activity called "myth buster role-play" where one student will play the role of an 'activist' for climate change and the other a 'sceptic'. 

"I just think that sort of exercise, given that it doesn't provide any sort of resource or credence to why people might be sceptical, amounts to state-organised bullying of kids." 

Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party, has defended it, telling Newshub a warming planet "is the reality kids today are facing" and it's "only right that they have the opportunity to discuss what this means". 

He said leaving behind a world that is "safe for our kids and grandkids" will require "efforts from every one of us to improve the way we farm, design our cities, and produce energy".