Shane Jones and some plant-based foods (Photo: Getty Images; Supplied)
Shane Jones and some plant-based foods (Photo: Getty Images; Supplied)

The BulletinFebruary 24, 2020

The Bulletin: Shane Jones vs the vegans is just the beginning

Shane Jones and some plant-based foods (Photo: Getty Images; Supplied)
Shane Jones and some plant-based foods (Photo: Getty Images; Supplied)

In today’s edition: plant-based diets add a new item to the rural-urban tension menu, Genesis plans NZ’s biggest solar farm and a major regulatory push on vaping.

The Sunday Star-Times devoted its whole cover to a dramatic image under the headline ‘Is meat for the chop?’, while inside a Colmar Brunton report put the proportion of New Zealanders eating meat-free at a startling 15%, more than doubling in just two years. Driving the trend is concern about the contribution of animal agriculture to climate change, largely due to methane emissions, which were last week revealed to be significantly undercounted in prior estimates.

Unfortunately, what might be seen as a conscience-driven choice has the potential to have a significant impact on New Zealand’s economy. A large proportion of our export earnings come from the agriculture sector – as a major Weekend Herald feature (paywalled, worth the money) pointed out, about 11% of all dairy consumed in China comes from Fonterra alone, and the meat industry is nearing $4bn in Chinese exports.

The tension between our economic imperatives and behavioural changes looks set to increase, and NZ First last week went on the attack through the self-styled champion of the regions, Shane Jones. His tirade against what he calls “veganism and almond powder” led to a sharp rebuke from those working in the alternative protein industry in New Zealand on The Spinoff, who pointed out that plants are grown on farms too. The Sunday Star-Times had a nuanced series of stories on the issue, pointing to the severing of familial connections to farming and a large increase in regulation over the past 12 months as being more impactful wedges between rural and urban communities.

NZ First again shaped the news agenda late on Friday, when Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan revealed it had blocked progress of the proposed ‘feebate’ scheme to have higher emissions vehicles subsidise the price of EVs and hybrids. The EV industry derided the NZ First position in a story for Newshub, and it became subject of a bizarre social media clash over the weekend, with first National and then NZ First claiming authorship over the policy’s demise. “We are still holding out the possibility they could change their minds and see some common sense,” Greens leader James Shaw told the Herald, surely without any great conviction.

In more positive news for the environment, Genesis Energy announced (paywalled) plans to build New Zealand’s biggest solar farm in the north Waikato. Jamie Gray reported for the NZ Herald that “the 300 megawatt solar farm will dwarf Refining NZ’s 27 megawatt solar development.” A solar farm 10 times larger than the next-biggest scans like a bigger story than a single column on the interior of the business section – but it’s cheering news all the same.

Please allow me to briefly talk about The Spinoff Members: it’s normal to spend this space pleading for funding, but today I want to thank those who have already signed up. On Friday applications closed for the first job entirely funded by the Spinoff Members – a journalist who will work out of the gallery in Parliament. When we launched Members, we had no idea whether it would work – so to be a little over six months in and a creating a brand new position is overwhelming. Particularly given that the job of covering our elected representatives is amongst the most vital the media can perform. Given the string of attacks on the New Zealand media over the past few weeks, flagrant attempts to intimidate journalists doing their jobs, it feels great to be pushing back against that trend by recruiting a new member of the gallery. So: thank you for making this happen – it means the world to all of us at The Spinoff. And if you haven’t yet signed up – please consider doing so. We’re already planning our next hires.

Sustainable NZ was already struggling to convince voters it had, as they say in tech, product-market fit, failing to register on a series of polls. Now comes a devastating Newshub report from Anna Bracewell-Worrall, in which its former secretary Helen Cartwright accuses leader Vernon Tava of doctoring financial records to make up for a shortfall of the 500 required to register with the electoral commission. “His great idea was that we should say we’d collected the money that was missing in cash and that the cash was in a petty cash tin,” she told Newshub. Tava denies the allegations – which, if true, are very serious – but with both Cartwright and its treasurer resigning, the blue-green party already looks unlikely to make it to the election, let alone succeed.

The lingering cloud over vaping began to disperse over the weekend, with the government announcing severe restrictions over sale and promotion. RNZ reports that no vaping products will be able to be sold to those under 18, nor able to be used in advertising or sponsorship. “It will keep our kids safe while allowing our smokers to quit,” Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa told the AM Show this morning. While the vaping industry was cautiously supportive of the proposals, ACT’s David Seymour was less complementary, telling Newshub “Labour is cracking down on an alternative that is 95% safer than tobacco as if it was tobacco.”

Right now on The Spinoff: Daniel Couch asks why we still push the discredited practise of ‘voluntourism’ at our universities – including his own. Chris Lee applauds the rise of litigation funding in New Zealand. Shahid S writes a powerful story about the dangers of Hindu nationalism, imported from India. Emily Writes torches the apparent decision to include Hannah Tamaki in the upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars. Simon Day writes a glorious essay on his first eight weeks as a father – to twins. Mark Amery plots an art-centric North Island road trip. And I’m plugging the latest episode of my media podcast, The Fold, featuring Toby Manhire and I discussing a chaotic month at RNZ.

For a longread, I strongly recommend this New Yorker feature on Lucara, a relative newcomer to the diamond business which has set about disrupting nearly every aspect of it, from processing rock to retailing. It is part-profile of Eira Thomas, the fascinating woman who leads the company, part history of diamonds, part story of a single, enormous diamond: the Sewelô, from Botswana. Here’s a taste:

“Last year, at around 10 a.m. on Good Friday, a sorter named Otsogile Metseyabeng was working at his station when a stone bigger than a baseball tumbled onto his conveyor belt. Metseyabeng is a tall Botswanan man of thirty-seven, with a high, nervous laugh; sorters like him typically earn about twelve dollars an hour. In the Setswana language, his first name means “How are you?” As Metseyabeng examined the stone, a shocked smile spread across his face.

The diamond was not only enormous but unusually shaped: it had both large, flat planes and jagged sections where the stone looked as if it had been smashed by a hammer. The whole thing was covered in a black carbon rind. It was impossible to see any of its interior, except through a few translucent spots. For a moment, Metseyabeng was the only person who knew about the existence of the world’s largest rough diamond. He was struck dumb. Then he alerted a colleague, who called out, “Teemane e tona tona! ”—“Very big diamond!” A supervisor arrived to verify the find. Normally, sorters who discover a valuable stone continue to work as usual. But Metseyabeng asked his boss for a ten-minute break, to compose himself.”

In sport, the Black Caps swept aside an appalling test series in Australia, which I’m definitely not still mad about for ruining a trip to Melbourne, with a powerful weekend’s performance against the star-packed Indian side. After bowling India out for 165 before lunch on Saturday, Williamson led his side to a dominant position, with India four down in their second innings and still trailing by 39 runs.

The White Ferns got their T20 world cup campaign off to a winning start, cruising to victory over Sri Lanka behind (who else?) Sophie Devine, who scored well over half her side’s runs. Meanwhile Australia suffered a surprise loss after an incredible spell from India’s diminutive legspinner Poonam Yadav.

There are other sports. The Blues shocked by winning a close away game in February, something they have avoided for what feels like decades, stealing victory in Pretoria on the back of a bold triple playmaker experiment from coach Leon MacDonald. Dan Hooker won a brutal five round bout, in which commentators suggested he might have broken his jaw, as UFC returned to Auckland. The win is one of the most important of his career, potentially moving him into the top five within his division.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme, or get in touch with our commercial team if you would like to look into a content partnership.

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