Greenpeace is condemning the National Party’s new agriculture policy, saying that it will fail to address the climate crisis and health impacts caused by intensive dairying.

“People across Aotearoa are already experiencing the effects of climate change and unsafe drinking water as a result of big dairy.  Removing rules and regulations will only make that worse,” says Greenpeace lead climate and agriculture campaigner Christine Rose.

Rose is currently in rural Southland, testing people’s drinking water for nitrate contamination. On Monday, one dairy farmer found nitrate levels in his water that were over 21mgL-1 – one of many with high levels of contamination. The Government’s limit is 11.3mgL-1.

“We’ve heard support from farmers for more regulation of dairy herd numbers, not less”, says Rose.

Nitrate contamination in drinking water is directly linked to high cow numbers and use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. As dairy cow numbers in New Zealand doubled between 1990 and 2019, and the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser increased by almost 700%, nitrate contamination increased as well, becoming a very real threat for rural communities.

“Governments have a responsibility to protect people’s health. Nitrate contamination is endangering rural communities’ drinking water, and can lead to increased risk of bowel cancer and preterm births. An agriculture policy that puts people and communities first must strengthen regulations on intensive dairying – cutting synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and halving the dairy herd,” says Rose.

“The National Party has chosen to do the opposite – saying that if in Government, they will remove what little regulation currently exists. It will allow big dairy corporations like Fonterra to continue maximising their profits unchecked, while rural communities have to buy bottled water because the water at home is unsafe to drink.

“Protecting people and the environment means acting to regulate polluting industries like intensive dairy – not being lobbied into inaction by industry and corporate interests,” says Rose.

“The National Party policy announced today is not leadership, and it’s not responsible. By removing regulations, the National Party would not only give a free pass for the dairy industry to continue polluting rivers and drinking water, but also allow it to continue superheating the climate. 

“The dairy industry is New Zealand’s biggest climate polluter. Regulations that restrict dairy pollution are regulations that protect the climate and all New Zealanders. A responsible Government would bring agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme, phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and halve the dairy herd.”

Greenpeace is also calling for support for farmers to transition towards more ecological farming – farming that works with, instead of against, nature.

“New Zealanders didn’t farm like this in the past – with massive herds and huge amounts of expensive inputs like synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and imported feed – and farmers on the ground are telling us that they won’t be farming like this in the future,” says Rose.

“It’s time for a new approach to farming. We can have thriving rural communities, where farmers work together to restore the land, protect wildlife, waterways and soil. The farming sector can – and must – be part of the solution.

“Transitioning to ecological farming will protect people, and the environment we depend on. Ultimately, everyone has the right to clean drinking water, and a safe and stable climate – things that the National Party’s agriculture policy fails to deliver.”