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New Zealand has proposed taxing the polluting gases released by the bodily functions of the 36 million cows and sheep in the country.

Announced on Tuesday, the policy would be the first in the world to place a levy on cow burps and flatulence as well as sheep pee.

The move was immediately condemned by New Zealand’s powerful farm sector.

Farmers warned it risked crippling domestic food production, with Federated Farmers, the industry’s main lobby group, saying the plan would “rip the guts out of small town New Zealand” and see farms replaced with trees.

Group president Andrew Hoggard said farmers had been trying to work with the government for more than two years on an emissions reduction plan that would “keep farmers farming”.

The proposed levy, he said, would lead farmers to sell their farms “so fast you won’t even hear the dogs barking on the back of the ute [pick-up truck] as they drive off”.

Opposition politicians argued the plan would increase worldwide emissions by moving farming to other countries that were less efficient at making food.

But prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the levy would bolster New Zealand’s agricultural sector as all the money would be put towards new technology, indsutry research and incentive payments for farmers.

“New Zealand’s farmers are set to be the first in the world to reduce agricultural emissions, positioning our biggest export market for the competitive advantage that brings in a world increasingly discerning about the provenance of their food,” Ms Ardern said.

New Zealand’s farming industry is vital to its economy but it contributes about half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

There are just five million people in the Pacific island nation but some 10 million beef and dairy cattle and 26 million sheep.

The government’s Net Zero plan includes a pledge to reduce methane emissions from farm animals by 10 per cent by 2030 and by up to 47 per cent by 2050.

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