The free trade agreement between the EU and New Zealand which has just been signed was almost unanimously rejected by our political class, in particular because of the concern of the agricultural world regarding new competition. -Zealand. Often described as climate ineptitude, this agreement also shows a curious reality: it is not enough to produce locally to emit less greenhouse gases!
At first glance, bringing agricultural products from the other side of the planet may seem completely absurd from an environmental point of view, due to CO emissions2 related to transport.
In reality, transport “from farm to fork” is almost negligible if we take into account the greenhouse gas emissions of agricultural products over their entire life cycle!
To be convinced of this, we must start by remembering that the CO2 is far from being the greenhouse gas the most powerful. However, the agricultural world massively emits two extremely “warming” substances.
- Nitrous oxide (N2O), 298 times more powerful than CO2, is emitted by the decomposition of animal waste and nitrogen fertilizers.
- Methane (CH4), 23 times more powerful, is produced by the fermentation of plants and especially by the gaseous emissions of ruminants.
These two gases alone represent 90% of agricultural emissions! In addition, the CO2that is to say the remaining 10%, is mainly emitted by:
- agricultural machinery;
- fertilizer and pesticide processing processes;
- transport of food and intermediate movements by trucks to breeding areas.
The need to review our agricultural model
In this context, the carbon footprint of meat from grass-fed sheep in New Zealand and transported by cargo remains lower than that of soy-fed sheep in France!
Wouldn’t revising the current agricultural model be the heart of the problem? If bringing agricultural products from New Zealand seems absurd to reduce our carbon impact, shouldn’t we instead seek to reduce our consumption of fertilizers and pesticides and review livestock feeding methods?
The real aberration is actually in the current productivist model: we made the mistake of separating agriculture from livestock, thanks to the massive use of nitrogen fertilizers to compensate for the nitrogen present in excrement. By proceeding in this way, we have also forgotten, in passing, to compensate for the carbon contribution of these excrements, leading to an impoverishment of European soils, which are so degraded that they are already causing yield losses. And above all, we made the mistake of reducing the proportion of grass in the diet, particularly for cattle, to satisfy the race for yield, pushing farmers to import soya en masse.
Would the New Zealand model be better? Yes and no, because if the production system, for example for milk cows, is based on grass growth (grazing 12 months out of 12), the increase in production pushes breeders to use a greater proportion of corn or palm cake, of whichThe environmental impact is disastrous…
However, in New Zealand, environmental protection is a strong societal requirement and it appears that the country is seeking to achieve a certain balance between productivity and the environment. The current government was even the first to propose a “carbon tax” oncow farts and burpssparking an outcry from the agricultural world.