A Greenpeace commissioned poll released today shows that twice as many New Zealanders support a phase out of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser than oppose it. 

According to the Horizon poll a majority think the Government should phase out the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser (54%) while 25% say it shouldn’t and 21% are unsure.

A Greenpeace commissioned poll released today shows that twice as many New Zealanders support a phase out of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser than oppose it. 

Greenpeace says the poll proves “strong public support for the government to cut synthetic nitrogen fertiliser which drives intensive dairying, leads to algal blooms of rivers, floods and droughts from climate change, and contaminates people’s drinking water with carcinogenic nitrate,” says Greenpeace Senior Campaigner Steve Abel.  

The poll release coincides with an OECD economic survey of New Zealand which highlights that emissions from agriculture “made up almost half of total emissions, a much higher share than the OECD average,” and “have grown by 17 percent since 1990, driven by increased use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and higher dairy cattle numbers.”

It also follows recently published research showing that nitrate contamination of drinking water – linked to excessive synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use and high dairy cow numbers – could be causing 100 cases of colorectal cancer and 40 deaths per year in New Zealand. 

The poll showed no significant differences in support for a phase out of synthetic fertiliser by occupation, the industry people work in or by where someone lives.

“There is no rural urban divide on support for phasing out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser,” says Abel. “This is unsurprising, because rural people are the worst affected by the effects of too many cows and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser being spread over the land each year.”

Greenpeace says that high numbers of dairy cows are only possible because of the excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. Synthetic fertiliser use has increased 663% since 1990, during which time the dairy herd increased 3.4 million cows to 6.3 million.

“The extreme weather events that hit farmers and rural people each year are made worse by the climate pollution from too many cows and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. Fertiliser and cows also drive the degradation and algal blooms in our rivers – 99% of which are outside of urban areas – and so it hits rural people, including Māori communities, the hardest,” says Abel.

“Because our water systems are interconnected and 50% of New Zealanders rely on groundwater for drinking, sick rivers lead to sick people and the most impacted communities are rural people on bore water.

“Right now the government is reviewing the National Environmental Standards for Drinking Water. The science is clear that to stop contamination of drinking water sources they must legislate to phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and public opinion supports that phase out,” he says.

Chemical fertiliser companies Ravensdown and Ballance are responsible for distributing 98% of New Zealand’s synthetic nitrogen fertiliser – over 400 thousand tonnes are imported or manufactured at the Kapuni urea factory each year and most of it is used by the Dairy industry (67%). 

For the good of the climate, rivers and human health, Greenpeace is calling for the government to phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, lower dairy cow numbers and support farmers to move to regenerative organic farming.



  • 67% of all New Zealand’s synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is used by the Dairy industry. The biggest increase in dairy intensity has occurred in Canterbury and Southland, regions which also have worsening nitrate water contamination rates and among New Zealand’s highest rates of bowel cancer. According to the Ministry For the Environment the major direct sources of nitrogen leaching in New Zealand are livestock urine – mainly dairy cow urine – and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
  • Greenpeace is currently offering free mail-in nitrate testing to anyone getting their drinking water from a bore or well. Since it’s public launch last year the mail-in testing service has had over 600 requests for sample kits and undertaken 300 tests.
  • The polling group was a representative sample of adult NZ across age, gender, level of education, employment status, region and ethnicity. The Poll asked “Should the government phase out the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser?”   
Dairy cows
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