New Zealand has long been proud of being clean and green. The image seems to have gotten into people’s minds and tourism continues to grow off the back of it. But most of us are aware that it’s not quite the reality. In 2012 John Key compared the 100% Pure slogan to that of McDonald’s, i’m lovin’ it. “I’m not sure every moment that someone’s eating McDonald’s they’re loving it,” he said, very astutely. 100% Pure is a marketing campaign, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to consider it something to strive for.
The recent outbreak of waterborne illness in Havelock North raised serious concerns. 5000 people got sick and an elderly woman lost her life. It will be a long time before the town fully recovers. As of writing this no one knows how the water in Havelock North got infected. Maybe it was cows, maybe it was just bad luck; an inquiry has been launched. What is clear, and has been clear for a long time now, is the damage that intensive agriculture causes to our environment.
Besides the fact that ruminant animals account for 48% of our greenhouse gas emissions (which they remain exempt from accounting for), intensive farming has a massive impact on waterways. The ground can only absorb so much cow piss. If we are not careful it will sink down into the shallow bores that are pumped to our taps.
A new dam is being proposed in Ruataniwha in Hawkes Bay—more water allocated to more cows. We need to start seriously considering whether we want this trend to continue. Is it good enough that 60% of our rivers are unsafe for swimming? The dairy industry generates almost $14 billion dollars a year, but at what cost?
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Change will not be easy. The status quo benefits those with many vested interests, and discussion of stricter regulations around farming seems well outside the current mainstream political dialogue. But I don’t think we should continue marketing a lie forever.