Winston Peters backs Shane Jones' pro-meat stance in row over climate teaching resource

Winston Peters is backing New Zealand First MPs who have spoken out against a new climate change teaching resource that advises students to eat less meat to save the planet. 

Shane Jones, a NZ First MP and Cabinet minister, lashed out at the resource last week, telling Newshub he doesn't want the "politically correct brigade colonising my dietary habits". 

Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of New Zealand First, supports Jones, and suggested the prospect of eating less meat could damage the country's agriculture industry and lead to job losses. 

He told Magic Talk the "climate community" in New Zealand is "seriously geared up for a sustainable future and very much aware of where it's got to go as we go towards the next 30 years". 

"Out of left field come a group of people who say we're going to get rid of you as well," Peters added. "That means, probably about 30 percent of New Zealanders being unemployed or maybe 50 percent.

"Exports give people jobs in this country and you've got this group of elitists challenging the very existence of these jobs by their extremist, absolutist statements."

New Zealand's agricultural industry has been described as efficient by international standards. Some studies have found it's more efficient to produce meat in New Zealand and ship it to the UK than it is to grow meat there.

But a 2018 study, however, found even the most environmentally-friendly meat was worse for the environment than the most-damaging plant-based food.

The new teaching resource, announced 10 days ago 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". 

Peters said that's the "kind of absolutism or extremism that the party I lead will never be allowed to prevail in our country". 

Magic Talk's Peter Williams asked Peters: "How do you know as Deputy Prime Minister and leader of a party in Government that it's not going to happen when James Shaw and Chris Hipkins are telling us that it is?"

Peters said Hipkins and Shaw have "done nothing of the sort". He said their announcement was about children getting a "broader understanding of the future issues". 

Shaw defended the teaching resource last week, 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". 

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

Jones later likened activists to "medieval torture chamber workers" hell-bent on "preaching this gospel of absolutism", in an interview with Radio Waatea. 

Asked on The AM Show about Jones' comments, Shaw said the statements were "well-constructed by him to appeal to the kind of people he wants to appeal to."

Gen Toop, Greenpeace New Zealand agriculture campaigner, defended the advice to eat less meat in the teaching resource. 

She told Newshub last week 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".

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."

The Ministry of Education teaching resource available for New Zealand students in years 7-10 tells them climate scientists agree that "humanity is responsible for the vast majority of the enhanced greenhouse effect". 

National says it might make changes to the resource, or perhaps withdraw it altogether.