How do you feel about most farmers' relationship with the environment?
A National MP has told a conference of scientists in Palmerston North that farming is not damaging the environment.
Shane Ardern told a conference of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science that to him the word damage "conjures up ideas of destruction".
Chairman of Parliament's primary production select committee, Ardern was one of four MPs speaking at a political panel at Massey University yesterday.
"I don't accept the farming sector does damage the environment, there's no doubt it has an effect," Ardern said. Farmers had done a lot to limit that effect in recent years, Ardern said, citing as an example the 23,000 kilometres of riparian planting and fencing completed nationwide by dairy farmers.
Ardern said one could argue that building houses not only damaged but devastated the environment. Living in a house was a fundamental part of society, he said, as was the need to grow food.
The MPs at the forum answered questions, with the first being: Who pays for the damage done to the environment by primary industry?
Labour MP Damien O'Connor said the responsibility should lie with the primary industries. The environmental costs were growing as farming became more intensified and had to be accounted for, he said, though he added that did not mean crippling the primary sector.
New Zealand's competitive advantage was its clean green image, O'Connor said. "Anything that can undermine that puts us at risk."
Green MP Steffan Browning said at present everyone was paying for damage done to the environment. This could be from higher rates to the inability to swim in a river because of health risks. "That can't continue," he said.
The free market was preventing the full cost of producing products, the cost to the environment, from being reflected in the price at market. This meant someone else was footing the tab for the pollution primary industries caused.
"The true cost of production must be reflected in the price," he said.
NZ First MP Richard Prosser's views were more in line with those of Ardern. "What constitutes damage?" he asked. "Everything we do here could be classed as damage."
Before human settlement, New Zealand was a land of forests, he said, so all development in the country had caused damage.
However, he thought that industry was already doing its share to repair what "damage" it caused.
"If we damage the environment we all pay but the primary sector is meeting most of that itself."
Other topics raised at yesterday's forum included whether the Government had its priorities right in science funding and how to add value to the commodities New Zealand produced.
- Manawatu Standard
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