Dairy industry hits back at 'lame duck' survey

LIAM HYSLOP, MARTY SHARPE AND STACEY KIRK
Last updated 14:02 10/03/2014
Opinion poll

Do you think the dairy industry's environmental performance is affecting New Zealand's global reputation and brand?

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Yes

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The dairy industry has hit back at a "lame duck" survey after respondents said the industry was damaging New Zealand's international reputation through a poor environmental record.

Seventy per cent of those who participated in a survey by Horizon Research, funded by Fish & Game and released yesterday, said the expansion of dairy farming had made water quality worse than 20 years ago.

More than a third of respondents believed the country was too reliant on the dairy industry and more than half believed the industry's poor performance was affecting New Zealand's global reputation and brand.

But Federated Farmers environment spokesman Ian Mackenzie said the survey failed to take into account that many of the policies respondents asked for had already been addressed.

"In the Fish & Game survey, people are concerned that the Government needs to put policies in place," Mackenzie said.

"That has been done through the national policy statement on freshwater and the national objective framework.

"Given the Government has put in place everything the respondents said they wanted, but were not aware of before they commented, I consider this poll to be a bit of a lame duck."

Dairy NZ sustainability strategy and investment team leader Rick Pridmore said although dairy farmers had contributed to some pollution, they were not the only contributors.

"Water quality in New Zealand, where it has got worse, has got worse from a large variety of sources.

"Dairy is one of the causes, dairy is not in denial, but we are just part of the issue."

Pridmore said parts of the survey asked people questions about topics they knew little about.

"There is one thing surveying for who should be prime minister, that is an opinion.

"A lot of us, on the vast majorities of subjects, we're not experts on them and go by what we hear and read."

Dairy farmers contributed more than $5 million per year to help fund research by councils trying to implement the national policy statement on freshwater, Pridmore said.

This included $1m to help improve Waituna Lagoon in Southland and $1.2m to assist Waikato Regional Council with its waterways.

Individual farmers worked hard to ensure their farms were environmentally friendly, Pridmore said.

"Everybody has a nutrient management plan, everybody has a better effluent system and those aren't cheap, those can be $200,000."

On the point of New Zealand's reliance on the dairy industry, Pridmore said dairy farmers did not get up in the morning to try and make New Zealand more reliant on them.

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"They wake up in the morning to help make money for the country and them.

"The fact that they have been successful, do you want to penalise them?"

No dairy farmer wanted that success to come at the expense of the environment, Pridmore said.

Any industry the size of the dairy industry would always leave a bigger environmental footprint than smaller industries, he said.

"If anything was the size of dairy it would have a bigger environmental footprint.

"If we had a population of 20 million people urban discharges would be the biggest thing affecting our water quality."

However, the Labour Party has said the survey showed the government has failed to recognise the importance of water quality.

"The survey shows that Kiwis see a clean and green environment as an intrinsic part of who we are with 89 per cent linking their identity to our natural environment," environment spokeswoman Moana Mackey said today.

"Water quality is key to this identity with nine out of 10 adults wanting waterways to be safe for swimming, fishing, and food gathering," she said.

"When it comes to taking responsibility for improving water quality an overwhelming 89 per cent support the view that those who pollute waterways should be made accountable for their restoration, including 88 per cent of National voters, and 72 per cent wanting to see farmers and dairy companies take responsibility for reducing the impact of dairying.

"What the survey does show however is support for the dairy industry, including further growth facilitated by large-scale irrigation schemes, but only if it can be proven that downstream waterways will not be adversely affected. Only 12 per cent supported these schemes going ahead with no qualification."

Mackey said the Government should pull its support for the Hawke's Bay Ruataniwha irrigation scheme.

It was unacceptable that millions of dollars of taxpayers money was going to subsidise a scheme that would make the Tukituki river toxic.

Fish & Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson said the research showed there was a risk to any political party introducing policies promoting economic growth if they could not guarantee safeguards to protect the environment.

"Of particular interest was the strong overall support (73 per cent) for requiring dairy companies to take formal responsibility for the environmental performance of their contracted suppliers - currently not the case, with the struggling role falling to regional councils funded by ordinary ratepayers," Mr Johnson said.

He said the results would shock many in the agriculture sector where "the long-held presumption has been that farming enjoys the popular support of the wider public".

"That has clearly all changed as a consequence of the bullish attitude of the dairy industry, and while many farmers are doing their best environmentally, the sector has simply gone too far with the industry leadership and regional councils failing to deal with the poor performers.

The research also showed the "overwhelming" (74 per cent) message that people did not want regional councils to allow new agricultural development and expansion "if it restricts public use and makes waterways unsafe for swimming, fishing and food gathering".

"New Zealanders want regional councils to stick to their knitting - protecting natural resources, including freshwater - rather than promoting environmentally destructive infrastructure projects and environmentally unsustainable industry expansion," he said.

The survey was conducted in November, and among its findings are:

- 37 per cent of respondents said the economy was too heavily dependent on dairy farming and 31 per cent said the growth of dairying and intensification had gone too far.

- 19 per cent believed the country should continue to grow dairy farming.

- 31 per cent of people said they would be much less likely to vote for a political party that introduced policies promoting economic growth without being clear on how the party would protect the environment.

- 55 per cent said the dairy industry's environmental performance was adversely affecting New Zealand's our global reputation and brand.

- 70 per cent said the expansion of dairy farming had made water quality worse than it was 20 years ago.

- 73 per cent said dairy companies should take responsibility for the performance of their contracted suppliers.

- 62 per cent said regional councils were conflicted by having responsibility for protecting waterways and for promoting large-scale irrigation schemes.

The survey talked to 3134 people aged 18 or over and has an error margin of +/- 1.8 per cent.

- The Dominion Post

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