Protest­ing won’t help dairy lob­by­ists

Marlborough Express - - COMMENT&OPINION -

Dairy farm­ers hate the ‘‘dirty dairy­ing’’ tag. They claim they are do­ing their best to clean up our rivers and lakes and that the crit­ics are be­ing un­fair.

DairyNZ is now un­wisely tak­ing its ‘‘clean dairy­ing’’ cam­paign into the world of ad­ver­tis­ing. It is fu­ri­ous that the Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Author­ity has re­jected its com­plaint against a Green­peace ad­ver­tise­ment.

Some­times lob­by­ists are bet­ter to quit while they’re be­hind.

The ASA said the state­ments in Green­peace’s ad ‘‘would not come as a sur­prise’’ to most Ki­wis. And then, most sur­pris­ingly, the author­ity is­sued an ex­tra­or­di­nary warn­ing to the dairy lobby group. ‘‘We would en­cour­age DairyNZ to con­cen­trate its re­sources into ad­dress­ing the very real prob­lems of river degra­da­tion, rather than try­ing to pre­tend the prob­lem doesn’t ex­ist.’’

That’s good ad­vice. Ev­ery­body knows that we have a se­ri­ous wa­ter qual­ity prob­lem, and that it is hurt­ing our na­tional claim to be clean and green.

Dairy farm­ers can rightly say that they are not the only source of wa­ter pol­lu­tion and (more con­tro­ver­sially) that they are do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to clean up their cor­ner of the prob­lem.

But as Par­lia­men­tary En­vi­ron­ment Com­mis­sioner Jan Wright said in her ground­break­ing re­port on dairy­ing in 2013, there is a ‘‘clear link be­tween ex­pand­ing dairy farm­ing and in­creas­ing stress on wa­ter qual­ity.’’ So dairy­ing does have a par­tic­u­lar re­spon­si­bil­ity to help clean up the part of the mess for which it is re­spon­si­ble.

The in­dus­try will com­plain in vain about Green­peace’s taunt that dairy sought to sup­press the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists’ mes­sage.

Maybe not, but it is protest­ing too much, which in the PR game is al­most as bad.

Be­hind the ar­gu­ment over a mere ad is a deeper and wider ar­gu­ment about New Zealand and its in­ter­ests. On the one hand is an im­mensely pow­er­ful eco­nomic in­ter­est, dairy­ing.

On the other hand is an­other pow­er­ful eco­nomic in­ter­est, tourism, the largest sin­gle earner of over­seas funds.

It is rightly con­cerned about the im­age that con­tin­ues to bring mil­lions of over­seas vis­i­tors here. It knows that if our clean green im­age is badly dam­aged, it could cost the coun­try bil­lions.

Amidst all this it is pos­si­ble to dis­agree both about the scale of the prob­lem and about what the in­dus­try and the Gov­ern­ment is do­ing about it. The brute fact is that many of our rivers are dirty and not even of­fi­cially ‘‘swimmable’’. In the midst of this ar­gu­ment, it is fool­ish for dairy lob­by­ists to think they will win the pub­lic de­bate by scor­ing a vic­tory over a Green­peace po­lit­i­cal ad.

Mean­while, as Wright her­self says, clean­ing up agri­cul­tural pol­lu­tion of our wa­ter­ways can­not be done quickly. It would be bet­ter for farm­ing lob­by­ists to get on with that dif­fi­cult task rather than con­tin­u­ing to fight back against the crit­ics.

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