Greenpeace activists are taking over Parliament lawn this lunchtime with a herd of dairy cows. They’re launching a new report which links the intensification of livestock farming with the safety of our drinking water.

The  animals will carry the message:  ‘Sick of Too Many Cows’.

Too Many Cows

The report can be downloaded here.

Today’s action is designed to send a message to the Government and opposition parties about the health implications of expanding intensive dairying.

“Scientists estimate that contaminated water causes between 18,000 and 34,000 cases of gastrointestinal illness in New Zealand each year, ” says Greenpeace Campaigner, Amanda Larsson.

Contaminated water increases the risk of getting sick from bacteria and other bugs.

High nitrate concentrations in drinking water have been linked to blue baby syndrome and to some types of cancers, including colon and thyroid cancer.

“Not only is intensive livestock farming endangering the health of our rivers, but the latest science says there is a chance it may be putting our health at risk.”

Greenpeace is calling for a withdrawal of all public funding from big irrigation schemes, which are a major driver of dairy expansion.

“Contaminated drinking water is already making people ill. It’s a public health priority that the Government end state-sponsored irrigation schemes and implement strategies to decrease cow numbers immediately.”

Supporting the Greenpeace report will be Public Health Physician, Dr. Alistair Humphrey and spokesperson from the Public Health Association, Keriata Stuart. Both will be available for comment at the launch.

As Warren Lindberg from the Public Health Association says in his foreword to the Greenpeace report:

“It’s no longer enough just to monitor the state of our water – the public health, environmental, tourism and industry sectors must start working together to stop the pollution in the first place.”

Grazing livestock are now considered to be the main source of faecal contamination of freshwater in New Zealand says Larsson.

“Where there is clear evidence of potential risk to human health, the Government has a responsibility to take the precautionary approach,” says Larsson.  “But right now, it’s doing the opposite.”

“National has set aside nearly half a billion dollars for irrigation schemes which will increase water contamination by expanding and intensifying dairying.”

“The Government needs to put people’s health first. As a starting point, they must end public funding of big irrigation schemes like the Ruataniwha Dam in Hawke’s Bay and Central Plains Water Scheme in Canterbury.”

Greenpeace is a key partner in the Freshwater Rescue Plan launched earlier this month.

One of the demands is redirecting Government money from irrigation to an Agriculture Transition Fund to help farmers switch to more ecological forms of farming.