How DOC sold its soul for $20m

02:01, Mar 19 2013
cow stand
DIRTY DEAL: DOC's reputation is now smeared with cow effluent after a $20mil deal with Fonterra, writes columnist Rachel Stewart.

How would New Zealanders feel if the Ministry of Health was so short of funds that it, with straight-face, accepted sponsorship from a giant tobacco company?

Would a big media launch, slick PR and much deadpan rhetoric about ''working with'' and ''educating'' the tobacco merchants about the perils of heart disease and cancer, both caused by their product, allay your concerns?

The Department of Conservation's recent decision to enter into a 10-year $20 million deal with Fonterra - whose shareholders are New Zealand's largest waterway polluters - strikes me as equally farcical. 

Five sensitive water bodies - Kaipara Harbour, Firth of Thames, Waikato's Peat lakes, Lake Ellesmere and Waituna Lagoon - will receive the funds of $2m annually.

It is a bit of an oversell by DOC and Fonterra to intimate that the whole Kaipara Harbour or all of Lake Ellesmere for example, will get focused on.

No, it will be one catchment within those areas.

The bigger question must be: will this agreement actually see a decrease in dairying intensification in those specific and already damaged catchments?

That doesn't appear to be written anywhere.

They do have a lovely jubbly written agreement that sounds really marvellous.

While most of it deals specifically with the five projects, Fonterra does say, in writing at least, that as a general principle it ''continues to be committed to improved environmental sustainability outcomes''.

Let's examine that environmental ''commitment''.  

It's true that DairyNZ has recently devised a new version of the ''Dairying and Clean Streams Accord'' for Fonterra to hang its hat on.

The original accord was set up in 2003 as a political ploy to head off Fish & Game's ''Dirty Dairying'' campaign  and was an abject failure.

It gave farmers 10 years to clean up their act - fencing off waterways, riparian planting, nutrient management - but was unregulated, preferring to rely solely on voluntary compliance from farmers.

It's been an incredibly handy tool and has been trotted out by the dairy industry, regional councils and Federated Farmers throughout the decade as ''proof'' that dairying was at least trying.

Except the deadline of 2012 has come and gone and the embarrassment of the dismal statistics has forced the dairy industry to find another smokescreen.

The result is called the ''Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord''.

Sounds nice with the word ''sustainable''  in it but, again, it gives farmers another decade to do all the things they should have done by 2012 under the old accord.

This one has no teeth either.

No rules, no regulation and the only ''commitment'' I can see is to talk in generalities.

Wouldn't the $20m given to DOC have been better spent ensuring Fonterra's shareholders actually did the work?

That would be a better conservation outcome, I would have thought.

Getting into bed with them makes me wonder whether DOC ever considered the many other negatives around Fonterra's brand.

This is the very same Fonterra that firmly opposes any environmental limits that might have tangible environmental outcomes.

Just last week its team of lawyers were saying so when giving evidence to Environment Canterbury on their proposed Canterbury land and water regional plan.

They did the same with Horizons Regional Council on the One Plan too.  
Fonterra fought tooth and nail against the emissions trading scheme, saying a carbon tax would cost it too much and damage competitiveness.

In other words, stuff climate change because we don't want to pay.   

With its continued use of palm oil in products and importation of palm kernel, Fonterra supports Indonesian deforestation, orangutan and sumatran tiger habitat destruction, and high greenhouse gas emissions.

In a few lines on its website it squares it all away very neatly - if you've had a frontal lobotomy.

Oh yes, there's also the small matter of Fonterra's ownership and development of an opencast coalmine at Mangatawhiri for the sole purpose of producing coal to power its dairy factories.

Yep, it prefers to use the dirtiest fossil fuel around and the one that contributes more to global warming than any other.  

The irony is that here we sit in the worst drought in 70 years and these jokers at Fonterra can't seem to join the dots.

Well, they can but they're not going to.

They'll keep spending huge amounts on public relations and spin because that's preferable to actually cleaning up their industry.

In the meantime they expect growth from their shareholders year in and year out.

That's called intensification.

Call me naive, if you like. Tell me this Government can't afford to fund DOC and this is the new business model. Tell me DOC will make Fonterra environmentally better.

Tell me anything you like.

You won't convince me.   

The only commitment Fonterra has is to profit.

To achieve this without too much environmental push-back, it needs to be liked. It is unfortunate DOC willingly got caught up in the game.

Yes, DOC. You sold your soul for a paltry $20m. Your hard-earned brand is now smeared with cowshit.


Manawatu Standard