Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Farmers lie about dirty dairying

Dirty dairying is one of our country's biggest environmental problems, resulting in polluted waterways and undrinkable (and unswimmable) water. But the government fobs off concern about it, pointing to the "Clean Streams Accord", an agreement between Fonterra, central government and regional councils, under which Fonterra promises to get its farmers to clean up their act voluntarily. Every year, MAF produces an annual snapshot of progress (collected here), and every year it shows that farmers are slowly but surely fencing their waterways, complying with the RMA, and setting nutrient budgets. So we don't have a problem, right?

Wrong. That report is based on what farmers tell Fonterra assessors every year. And it turns out that they lie, overstating their compliance on excluding stock from waterways by 100%:

The Clean Streams Accord’s Snapshot of Progress claims that 84 percent of Fonterra dairy farms have fully fenced off all Accord-type waterways. However a technical report by MAF, also released today, reports that just 42 percent of farms had achieved complete stock exclusion from Accord waterways.
(Link added)

Which neatly explains why, despite annual snapshots showing regular progress, our lakes and streams get dirtier and dirtier. Our farmers are not committed to resolving this problem. They just tell the assessors whatever they want to hear, and continue on behaving in their old, polluting ways. Fonterra gets greenwash headlines, the government gets to pretend there is no problem, farmers make money at the expense of the rest of us... and our environment continues to be destroyed.

Obviously, this isn't good enough. Self-regulation is a failure. If we want this problem solved, then we need real regulation. Which in practice means regional councils stepping in and requiring total stock exclusion from their waterways in their regional plans, and being willing to vigorously police and prosecute farmers to force compliance. Otherwise, they'll just continue doing exactly what they're doing: shitting in our rivers, and then lying about it.