Intensive dairy farming is tarnishing NZ's clean, green image – Stuff.co.nz

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Pristine freshwater lakes and rivers are the jewel in our country's crown but New Zealand's dairy industry doesn't align with those ideals. (FILE PHOTO)

DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

Pristine freshwater lakes and rivers are the jewel in our country’s crown but New Zealand’s dairy industry doesn’t align with those ideals. (FILE PHOTO)

OPINION: As the Government looks at new fresh water rules New Zealand has to discuss the elephant in the room; the industry that we are best known for – the dairy industry.

Pristine freshwater lakes and rivers are the jewel in our country’s crown, the backbone of our ability to portray an authentic clean, healthy, vibrant image to the world. This image is worth billions to our tourism and export trade and people want to visit this paradise and consume our food products.

Many people in New Zealand have reported that clean, healthy waterways are their number one concern for those reasons.

But we, as a country, are changing in ways that do not align with our freshwater ideals. Since 1994, the number of dairy cattle has increased by 70 per cent and this has had a negative effect on our waterways.

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More cows mean more irrigated land. Some beautiful landscapes rich in dry land plants and animals, like Mackenzie Country and Canterbury plains, are unsuitable for dairy conversion and require large scale irrigation.

There are many studies linking nitrogen in drinking water to health issues like thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and neural tube defects. A 2006 study found Canterbury had the world’s highest incidence of Crohn’s disease. Another 2018 study looked at 20 years of data for 2.7 million people and showed there is an increased risk of illnesses with levels of nitrates that are even lower than the national rules currently.

Some beautiful landscapes rich in dry land plants and animals are unsuitable for dairy conversion and require large scale irrigation. (FILE PHOTO)

Kirk Hargreaves

Some beautiful landscapes rich in dry land plants and animals are unsuitable for dairy conversion and require large scale irrigation. (FILE PHOTO)

Canterbury has major issues with nitrates and the 1.3 million dairy cows being farmed on unsuitable land could be a contributing factor. Many places with arid temperatures, set to worsen with climate change, are seeing troubling changes – in Otago, rivers are drying up more frequently, and in the Hawkes Bay ground water levels are shrinking.

Seventy-six per cent of native freshwater fish are at risk of extinction, 82 per cent of waterways on farmland are unsafe for swimming, 59 per cent of ground water on farms failed the current standards due to E. Coli and 13 per cent due to nitrates.

More than 200 wetlands have been drained in the last 20 years and another 700 have been partially destroyed. According to Environment Aotearoa, the latest report from the government shows our clean, green, fresh water identity is eroding quickly. Even the world’s media has picked up on this with the Guardian reporting the bleak findings. This coverage is hurting our export and tourism revenue.

The process of creating dairy for humans from a cow requires forcibly impregnating cows, and removing the male calves for slaughter. Around 2 million calves are removed from the mother cow every year in New Zealand.

In Canada and the UK dairy is no longer a staple nutritional recommendation. In China, one of our country’s main export for dairy, four out of five people have some form of lactose intolerance.

Kiwi farmers deserve pathways to diversify so they can stay ahead of the economic, environmental, climate change and animal ethics changes. (FILE PHOTO)

Andy Jackson

Kiwi farmers deserve pathways to diversify so they can stay ahead of the economic, environmental, climate change and animal ethics changes. (FILE PHOTO)

I’ve come to realise that we cannot have a conversation about individual health without it matching the health of our ecosystem. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report calls for drastic change in the way we produce food to move towards better individual health, reduction in water use, GHG emissions, and environmental stewardship.

Dairy doesn’t fit well with any of those aspects. I understand that dairy is interwoven with our cultural identity, and our economy relies heavily on the income it provides. Surely we need to start changing the way this country produces food for the world so we don’t destroy our environment at the expense of the export dollar. Killing the golden environmental goose that provides long term gold is a crime against wisdom. I know change is hard but intensive dairying is a sunset industry for many reasons – it’s not a health food, it requires an extensive amount of water and fertiliser, the effect on our waterways is detrimental and there are uncomfortable animal rights issues.

New Zealand’s dairy farmers are some of the hardest working, kindest, most adaptable people in the country. They deserve pathways to diversify so they can stay ahead of the economic, environmental, climate change and animal ethics curve ball that will be thrown at them over the coming years.

Our fantastic farming community need better recommendations from outside the industry that relies so heavily on the status quo, with minor tweaks.

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