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Fonterra’s NZ milk generating 15 million tonnes of CO2 annually

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Each litre of milk Fonterra produces in New Zealand generates nearly 1kg of greenhouse gases – about 85 percent of it on-farm.

Each litre produced causes the emission of greenhouse gases equivalent to 940g of carbon dioxide, meaning Fonterra’s 15 billion litres of milk would produce nearly 15 million tonnes of carbon.

On the farm, 59 percent of those emissions are methane, 17 percent are carbon dioxide, and 24 percent are nitrous oxide. Processing and manufacturing accounts for 10 percent of total emissions, and distribution accounts for 5 percent of total emissions.

Specific products which are concentrated – such as the iron-binding protein called lactoferrin which sells for $500,000 a tonne — can require up to 14,000kg of milk to make a single kilo of lactoferrin and will have a huge carbon footprint.

The Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, warned in October 2007 that the dairy sector might have only a narrow edge on British farmers in terms of the greenhouse gas emissions in producing and shipping milkpowder.

She said New Zealand could get dairy products onto UK supermarket shelves with a lower carbon footprint than comparable product from UK farmers, but “the margin is not that large”.

The ratio of the carbon footprint of 1kg of British milksolids to the carbon footprint of 1kg of New Zealand milksolids was about 4:3, she said.

According to Professor Caroline Saunders, director of Lincoln University’s agribusiness and economics research unit, 2007 research showed the UK produced 34 percent more greenhouse gases per kg of milksolid, and 30 percent more per hectare of dairy farm.

These figures included methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the cows, and the British farmers had a higher level of reliance on concentrated feed and forage.

The government has funded seven carbon footprinting projects in the dairy, kiwifruit, wine, lamb, forestry, berry fruit and onion sectors.

Details of the kiwifruit study have already been released, showing Zespri, the world’s biggest kiwifruit exporter, found that each 1kg of its New Zealand-grown green crop eaten in Europe generates the equivalent of 1.77kg of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gases. Gold kiwifruit – about 20 percent of exports – creates a little less.

The Zespri study measuring the “life cycle” of exported New Zealand kiwifruit showed 41 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from supplying European consumers arose from shipping the fruit 20,765km.

Similar studies of the wine industry – which has already completed its report – apples, and lamb are due to be released in July, and the beef sector will lay out its figures in August.

Forestry, berryfruit and onions are also expected to come under scrutiny.

The carbon footprinting exercise has been overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), where the deputy director general for policy, Paul Stocks, has previously told industry that with New Zealand’s existing reputation as a clean and green producer, carbon footprinting can leverage exporters to have a competitive advantage.

Global supermarket chains such as Tesco and Wal-Mart are key drivers of carbon footprinting.

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