Eat Dirt and Thrive!

By Daimien Reynolds

As quality beef producers, we need to start getting ready for quite a different global environment in the years to come. Covid 19 has been a truly global event, there is no doubt the impacts of the event are going to be profound and far reaching. It will change people’s behaviour at an individual level – and at a country and global level. The pandemic has caught the world wanting, it is a symptom of a problem we have created through the way we live and have grown – it is a symptom of the insidious side of globalisation. The interconnectedness of our global village has caused this virus to spread extremely rapidly; and the globalisation of food production and distribution has arguably contributed to an epidemic of chronic illness, which has meant humanities’ ability to fight the disease has been compromised because of widespread immunity depletion.

As a British National, born in Africa and having moved to New Zealand in 1976, I consider myself a Kiwi with a global perspective. And it means I have family in all corners of the world. Michelle Paisley is a cousin who works in Hong Kong as an adviser to Venture Capital Funds and private companies looking to raise capital from institutional investors.  She was previously a director of Macquarie Bank both in Australia and Hong Kong. Her brother in law Angus Borthwick (founder of Borthwick Food Group) is a cousin to the Borthwicks of Te Whanga Angus. It is funny how connected we are even beyond New Zealand. Talking to her recently has been very enlightening. She has given me her perspective of it all, what’s happening in Hong Kong, China, and as she travels frequently to the States and the UK, she gives a wider perspective than just China.

Michelle says Hong Kong, with 7.4 million people has had less infections and less deaths than New Zealand. Culturally, they have responded differently and more effectively than other countries, helped by their practise run with SARS in 2003. Hong Kongers tend to be more compliant with government decrees (except for the riots!), more considerate of each other’s health and have tougher rules. For example, since 19th March, arrivals in Hong Kong receive an electronic wrist band when they land.  Once home they walk around their home/section to GPS it with their phone and submit that information.  If they break those bounds the police pick that up electronically, and they can be arrested and put in the clink for up to 6 months. Likewise if any member of a family gets Covid 19, the rest of the household is taken away to government quarantine facilities, which, by all accounts, aren’t much different from the clink anyway!  From day one people wore facemasks out of respect for each other, even Westerners came to terms with the norm pretty quickly. As they go about their daily life, the authorities use technology such as smart phones to track people’s movements and to facilitate personal disclosures of Covid 19 exposure, and do far more testing than many other countries. Hong Kong is well prepared for subsequent outbreaks; in fact they are already in their second wave, triggered by people (mostly uni students) returning from other countries.

So how does this all come under the heading ‘Eat Dirt and Thrive?! The heading is taken from a podcast by one Zach Bush, who draws a compelling link between soil health, food, and the body’s ability to improve its immune function.

To help put this into context, one enigma with Covid 19 is why it affects people so differently? Some people have no symptoms, at the other end of the spectrum, some people die. There has been much statistical cross tabulation to try to find answers but nothing conclusive has been found yet. What does seem clear though, is that if people’s immune systems are compromised or weak, they are more affected by this virus. People’s immunity can be affected by the environment they live in, and their health, and one big determinant of their health is…the food they eat.

The integrity of food is going to become even more important going forward. This was happening anyway, Covid is just going to place even more emphasis on it. People in our target markets in these highly populated areas are worried. Seriously worried about their health. Food and health are common topics of conversation. They live in a busy environment, chronic illness is a norm now – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, let alone cancer. And it appears to be getting worse. Some of the factors that contribute to their environment they cannot control, but one they can is….food.

Globalisation has contributed to the quick spread of Covid 19, it has also changed how food is produced and distributed. At a time when people are so concerned about their health and want to eat healthy food, they feel the food they are eating is making them unhealthy, even killing them – causing cancer for example. People who can afford to actively seek out and pay a premium for food they trust. Michelle says she pays $75Hong Kong dollars ($15 NZD) for a half dozen of FRENZ (New Zealand) eggs, next to them on the supermarket shelf is another brand of organic eggs, selling at the same price for a dozen.  That’s the value of a brand consumers trust, food they trust – 100% premium no problem.  If this works for eggs – why not beef too? 

So, as these events happen from time to time, more frequently probably as we go forward (remember SARS, Bird Flu, Mad Cow disease, Swine Flu…), educated, wealthy people, whose immunity may already be compromised – or who have an existing health problem – are very concerned about what they eat. There is a massive groundswell of interest in healthy food and a shift in thinking from global to local, integrity and provenance. And here is the point Michelle made to me. The potential for New Zealand beef producers to market branded safe product to these high value markets is immense. We are well positioned for it. Based on what she is reading, Michelle has no trouble believing that some beef on the supermarket shelf might actually be killing her – whilst another can be an important healthy component of her diet.  She asked me – who is the FRENZ of NZ beef?  We can already claim antibiotic free and hormone free status for our products, there’s also further opportunity to leverage other trending themes such as the glyphosate-free movements and focus on microbiome health, both of which come back to soil health, another string we could add to our bow quite easily.

These movements can’t be underestimated. Take the glyphosate-free movement for example (I’m an avid user of Roundup btw, for the time being). Maybe Monsanto is right, maybe they are wrong, in that Roundup doesn’t cause cancer. But the fact remains, now that Roundup-ready seed is used in food production, and whole crops are sprayed with the stuff, it is the belief that somehow it is affecting health of those that eat the food (even ‘Italian’ pasta – made of Canadian corn), that is powerful. They believe (and maybe they are right, or partly right) that glyphosate is now everywhere at a microscopic level, and it is cancer causing. At a time 38.4% of Americans are getting cancer, they are looking for the causes. Under the microscope is food. Those that can afford to are willing to pay for food they consider safe, and we can produce it.

So Eat Dirt and Thrive. Work with the trends, listen to consumers, produce authentic, safe food to meet demand, and take advantage of the Global to Local ethos change. Keep producing the best quality beef you can buy (our bulls!), and support Angus Pure by using those tags!