The National Party has pledged to strip back environmental protections in its primary sector growth policy, released on Thursday afternoon. Greenpeace is calling it a major step backwards that threatens New Zealanders’ right to swimmable rivers, safe drinking water and a stable climate.

“The astronomical rise in dairy cows over recent decades has already led to polluted rivers, contaminated drinking water and rising greenhouse gas emissions. National’s policy is reckless. It will make all of these matters worse,” says Greenpeace campaigner Christine Rose.

The National Party policy promises to strip back existing, modest environmental protection including current rules to prevent intensive stock grazing (mud farming) in and around waterways and on steep slopes, putting fresh water quality at further risk.

Rose says, “Nobody wants to see cows giving birth to calves when they’re knee deep in mud. Mud farming from intensive winter grazing is unacceptable and already poses a reputational risk for our primary exports. Making current rules weaker will make water pollution worse while sabotaging New Zealand’s clean green brand”. 

The policy fast-tracks on-farm water storage which has driven intensification beyond what nature can sustain, and rejects Te Mana o te Wai which puts the health of freshwater first. 

“The fact is that we already have too many cows in New Zealand and National’s proposed policies will make the problems we’re already seeing from Big Dairy even worse,” says Rose.

National also promotes unproven genetic engineering technologies to address agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, which are New Zealand’s leading cause of climate pollution.

“National has clearly understood that New Zealanders are really concerned about climate change. But technofixes like genetic engineering just aren’t a credible response. It’s magical thinking at a time when we need immediate action to reduce the number of methane-belching cows.

“We already have the tools we need to transition to better farming in Aotearoa. Real leadership means phasing out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and reducing the dairy herd, which will directly reduce emissions, improve water quality and increase productivity and profitability.

“Rural people are among the first and worst affected by climate change, polluted rivers and contaminated drinking water. National’s proposed primary sector policy is irresponsible and dangerous to the sector National claims to support, as well as to New Zealand’s wider environment.”

Greenpeace, alongside more than forty other organisations, is calling on all political parties to adopt ten key actions for a safe and stable climate and healthy environment – including action on intensive dairy’s climate pollution. These are outlined in a plan known as Climate Shift. More than 15,000 New Zealanders have signed on in support of the plan since it launched in June.

Climate shift: a ten-point plan for climate action


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