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11 Oct, 2022 05:28

New Zealand unveils plan to tax cow farts

The eco-friendly tax scheme faces opposition from local farmers groups
New Zealand unveils plan to tax cow farts

The government of New Zealand has proposed a plan to tax greenhouse gasses created by farm animals, hoping to slash carbon emissions as part of a decades-long climate change initiative, despite vocal criticism from agricultural organizations. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the proposal on Tuesday morning, saying the plan is the first of its kind ever attempted and would put New Zealand on track to hit its targets for reducing methane emissions over the next decade.

“No other country in the world has yet developed a system for pricing and reducing agricultural emissions, so our farmers are set to benefit from being first movers,” she said, adding that “Cutting emissions will help New Zealand farmers to not only be the best in the world but the best for the world.”

Under the proposal, farmers who meet thresholds for herd size and fertilizer use would be required to pay a fee for methane and nitrous oxide gasses created by their cattle – earning the scheme the unceremonious, though somewhat misleading, title of ‘fart tax’ (most methane from cows is released in the form of burps).

If the plan secures final approval by the end of the year, the tax payments would begin in 2025 and be levied every one to three years. Exact amounts have yet to be determined.

According to the government, revenues generated by the taxes would be devoted to research and development for green technologies, as well as “incentive payments” for farmers who take up eco-friendly practices.

The scheme is part of a longer-term goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but has already faced condemnation from local farmers groups and opposition lawmakers. 

Federated Farmers, a major lobbying group, said the tax proposal would “rip the guts out of small-town New Zealand,” and put “trees where farms used to be.”

“Federated Farmers is deeply unimpressed with the government’s take on the … proposal and is concerned for our members’ futures,” the group’s national president, Andrew Hoggard, said.

Beef and Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ also voiced concerns, with the latter organization saying that while Tuesday’s announcement was “another step” toward a new system, there was still much to do to “get it right” for farmers.

Given that nearly half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are linked to its agricultural sector – which boasts some 10 million cattle and 26 million sheep – similar ‘fart tax’ proposals have been floated in the past. An initiative in 2003 met major resistance from farmers across the country, however, prompting a massive protest which saw hundreds gather in the streets of Wellington, some bringing along their cows and tractors.

More recently, farmers in the Netherlands staged large demonstrations to protest similar emission taxes, blockading a number of supermarket warehouses while facing off with police. Those protests have continued, with several farmers arrested last month after parking six tractors on a street in The Hague and refusing to leave.