Thursday 16 March 2017

New Zealand’s “Non-Negotiable” Mythology: Deconstructing The Dairy Industry’s Latest Propaganda Campaign.

The Myth Of Clean, Green, Dairying: The primary production sector’s stance that what is good for New Zealand’s farmers must also be good for the country as a whole has become non-negotiable. Preserving the Kiwi way of life is now synonymous with preserving the economic well-being of the New Zealand farmer. Specifically, the New Zealand dairy farmer.
NEW ZEALAND’S DAIRY INDUSTRY was recently compared to the NRA. A better comparison would be the United States oil industry. Like the National Rifle Association the US oil industry’s lobbying power is legendary. To set one’s face against either group is generally considered to be career suicide – especially if you’re a career politician.
The US oil industry is the better comparison because, like our own dairy industry, it plays a central role in its national economy. Both industries are strategically positioned to bend governments to their will.
Shortly after assuming the office of Vice-President in 2001, Dick Cheney convened a secret conclave of US oil interests. The proceedings of that gathering remain inaccessible to ordinary Americans. By 2008, however, the effects of the decisions taken at Cheney’s Energy Summit were measurable across the entire planet. The Vice-President was unrepentant, reaffirming to Fox News in the dying days of the Bush Administration the message that his boss’s father, President George H W Bush had delivered to the Rio Earth Summit way back in 1992: “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”
Equally “non-negotiable” is our own primary production sector’s stance that what is good for New Zealand’s farmers must also be good for the country as a whole. Preserving the Kiwi way of life has thus become synonymous with preserving the economic well-being of the New Zealand farmer. Specifically, the New Zealand dairy farmer.
As anyone who watches television will attest, a colossal amount of money is currently being spent to convince New Zealanders that farming – especially dairy farming – is, in some mysterious way, integral to preserving the New Zealand way of life.
Dairy farmers are depicted as dedicated protectors of the land. Striding across their paddocks in the early light, breathing in the scent of their lush natural pastures, these quintessential Kiwis are presented as the uncomplicated stewards of modest family farms passed down from generation to generation over many decades.
That most dairy farms are now rigorously commercial ventures, owned by private companies or listed corporations, and monitored constantly by the foreign-owned banks to which they are so deeply indebted, are facts which the makers of these advertisements prefer to keep out of their stirring pastoral narratives. Also missing are any visual references to the complex irrigation machinery so essential to meeting their business’s ambitious milk production targets.
Nor, in the dawn’s early light, are we vouchsafed a glimpse of the depleted streams and polluted rivers that the doubling and tripling of dairy herd sizes has rendered inevitable. Indeed, the dairy farmers depicted in these ads appear to be throw-backs to the time when dairy farmers drove only 100 or 150 cows towards the milking shed – not the 400-600 cows found on today’s average dairy unit.
Such information would, of course, make it much harder to sell the notion that the farmers depicted in these ads are the ones who make it possible for New Zealanders living in cities to remain psychically linked to the clean, green countryside which underwrites their urban lifestyles. By the power of the ad-man’s dubious magic, these entirely fictional representatives of New Zealand agriculture have been enlisted to reinvigorate the nation’s foundation myth.
At the heart of that myth lies the “countryside good/cities bad” dichotomy. It is the dichotomy that fuels the sacred ideological fires of the National Party and which informs the ingrained assumptions that sets provincial New Zealanders against their metropolitan cousins. It also the dichotomy behind the suggestion of urban dereliction which constitutes the unspoken message of the latest batch of Fonterra ads.
The rural beneficence being celebrated here is Fonterra’s (and, by extension, the New Zealand dairy farmers’) donation of packaged milk to the nation’s school-children. By which, of course, is meant the nation’s “needy” schoolchildren. These little packages of rural generosity are intended for the unfortunate offspring of the indigent (and probably immoral) inhabitants of the wicked cities’ treeless suburbs.
Extolling the virtues of Fonterra’s milk-in-schools philanthropy is no less an icon of provincial virtue than the all-conquering All-Black hero, Ritchie McCaw. Seldom has one complex bundle of national myths been enlisted to the cause of another which such seamless effectiveness.
It is worth paying close attention to these ads the next time they appear on your television screen. As you take in the sophisticated messages embedded in the text and imagery, ask yourself why they are being broadcast now, with such relentless regularity, to their overwhelmingly urban audience.
Think about the success of Greenpeace’s “Dirty Dairying” campaign; about the shocking images of shit-filled streams, dried-up riverbeds and toxic lakes. Think about the dairy industry’s point-blank refusal to accept that it is more-or-less singlehandedly destroying New Zealand’s clean, green image. Recall its role in the destruction of regional democracy in Canterbury: its determination to overcome all opposition to its plans for vast, government-subsidised irrigation schemes. Think about the fact that nitrogen levels across the country are rapidly approaching danger levels – even in the deep, formerly pristine aquifers beneath our feet. Think of the way the Ministry of Primary Industry and the National Party stand guard over the dairy industry in exactly the same way as Dick Cheney and Scott Pruitt stood and stand guard over the US fossil fuels industry.
The dairy industry’s way of life is every bit as “non-negotiable” as the American people’s – and just as big a threat to our environment.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 15 March 2017.


greywarbler said...

When you listen to Gareth Morgan he seems still wedded to the free market. He is going to improve certain things but seems to be adopting fanciful economic notions to other matters like pollution which is going to regulate itself by incentives.

The high nitrogen leachers will be highly charged and the low ones lightly charged and they will profit from some of the duties? received from the higher, so rewarding the lower polluters. The money stays in the system.

But what if the money taken from the high polluters was put into Task Force Green gangs doing riparian planting on their properties. Though the bad farmers will allow their stock to eat their way down to the river again, the gangs could replant and this could be the beginning of rural renewal in run-down areas.

I guess at some stage regulations will be broken, patience would wear thin, and corrective action be taken but Gareth only seems to countenance lite regulation. All this waiting around for the market to work will allow another pile of gunk to be washed into and out of the stream.

It's a pity that such a manly looking man has to restrain himself like a fop at a bone china tea party when it comes to taking determined legal action against farm polluters, so just a bit of aggro please Gareth to hurry up the market response. (If I am wrong in my received notions please put me right.)

peteswriteplace said...

Somebody could tell them that dairy is No2 to Tourism now, and filthy contaminated stream, rivers and lakes are not good for our 'green image'.

jh said...

Tourism is nothing to crow about either.

Nick J said...

Grey you are onto one of the real causes of pollution, it is the lack of a true cosat mechanism to charge the farmer for externalities. If the farmer had to pay a levy for water, another for environmental degradation etc etc they would not do it.

Interesting column Chris. You miss something about what makes farmers slightly different in their economic outlook. They have a very close relationship with their inputs / outputs and related costs. I have spent literally hundreds of hours with farming members of our family, they look at pretty much everything in material terms, they know that if they could get rid of the gorse in the gully they could run an extra few stock units...if they get access to the rural verges , more stock units. The environment is there to maximise income potential, the public domain a resource they should exploit at zero cost. This outlook is not universal but it is the norm, and it is inimical to protecting the environment.

I do have faith that the "ex trout streams" such as the Selwyn and Mangatainoka will recover, maybe long after my lifetime. That will be the result of the end of "agro - industry" that is predicated upon by ready cheap energy and artificial fertilizers. Until then we would be better to hammer the polluters, and to do that accept that the cost to we "consumers" is less material wealth.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris

Dairying has ridden a wave of demand from newly affluent Chinese as china's economy has taken off over the last couple of decades, largely fuelled by a sustained, controlled currency imbalance with the rest of the world. The result has been an increasing demand for dairy produce expanding faster than dairying can be expanded domestically. But we are helping them all we can to develop their domestic production, sending stock, setting up massive feedlot farms etc.

No large country likes to be too dependant on imported food, especially in times of threatening global strife as now.

I predict that the demand for dairy on the global market will subside to a level and profitability that will see it revert to the less intensive, more environmentally sustainable level of the past, and perhaps the corporate players will loose interest.

Cheers D J S

Nick J said...

Here is a complication for Fonterra and Fed Farmers if this become a trend...
In a world-first a New Zealand river has been granted the same legal rights as a human being. The local Maori tribe of Whanganui in the north island has fought for the recognition of their river – the third-largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years. On Wednesday, hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy when their bid to have their kin awarded legal status as a living entity was passed into law. “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi [tribe]. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

The new status of the river means if someone abused or harmed it the law now sees no differentiation between harming the tribe or harming the river because they are one and the same. Chris Finlayson, the minister for the treaty of Waitangi negotiations, said the decision brought the longest-running litigation in New Zealand’s history to an end. “Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” said Finlayson in a statement. “The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique … it responds to the view of the iwi of the Whanganui river which has long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practise.” Two guardians will be appointed to act on behalf of the Whanganui river, one from the crown and one from the Whanganui iwi.

Now the river is a "person" does that mean polluters might be charged with assault, attempted murder etc under the Crimes Act? Interesting implications.

Topnotch said...

Richie McCaw made a fool of himself spouting dairy sector PR propaganda

Plastered said...

I worked a couple of seasons in the dairy sector.

And can confirm that most dairy farmers have no real regard for the environment.

It is, for many, a money-making scheme without checks or balances.

jh said...

Not only are the local swimming holes dried up or polluted but salmon are scare

David Stone said...

@ Nick J

I guess the Whanganui must be guilty of murder too, or at least manslaughter should someone drown in it. I wonder what it's I R D number is and when it becomes eligible to collect super. How long do river people expect to live?
Cheers D J S

greywarbler said...

Nick J
So you reckon the TOPs party's idea has legs? Why not run it as a pilot?
There is no guarantee that if it works, it will be retained, bit it would be a sharp lesson that effort had to be made. Overseas owners would get angry and perhaps decide that we aren't such a soft touch after all.

Wayne Mapp said...

So all 11 comments (12.00 on Saturday) are in one way or another anti diary. There is a large disconnect between typical left activists and much of the farming community, verging an hostility. These days it is lensed through environmental issues; in the past it would have unionism.

Is there actually any common ground?

Anne Else said...

Thanks for this excellent piece. You might also mention the palm kernel added to grass to carry such large numbers of cows, and the low wages, long hours and poor accommodation for the migrant workers on farms so well exposed by Helen Kelly - both very different from that mythical " family farm". Then there's the high input pattern required by this factory farming model, making survival of price drops so precarious ( as exposed by Rod Oram). Organic dairying, by contrast, is much more sustainable and fetches far higher prices. Even Fonterra has an organic wing.

Charles E said...

Chris the advert you craft against that industry is no less distorted than theirs and Greenpeace's (neither green nor peaceful, they're water melons).
Not that I have much time for dairy (I'm a forester) but both of you are truly full of it!
Here are few things to add to the picture;
A hectare of gorse sheds as much nitrogen as a hectare of dairy farm, yet there are 100s of 1000s of it 'farmed' out there producing zero, especially on Maori land or in nature reserves and greenies will tell you it is a nursery crop for natives! Maybe, until it burns as on the Port Hills.
The polluted lakes in the NI were not polluted by dairy. But by sheep and beef farming & deforestation by all and sundry including the workers party back then.
National gets most of its votes from the cities not the country, as do all parties so rural liking National is irrelevant to who governs. But it is a truth that conservatism is more wedded to the land than liberalism. Nature is conservative some say.
National and Pakeha (Western) law can take huge credit for this granting of legal personality to a river. A world first and brilliant. It will go down in history as hugely important to the planet in due course I predict. This is the greenest thing any NZ government has done ever. Oh and the Kermadec reserve. It is proof that conservatives are the truest greenies.
Fonterra was set up by Labour. Shame on them.

Nick J said...

Wayne I would invite you to stand in a trout stream with me. You can then absorb the pollution running around your knees whilst explaining to me that it has nothing to do with farmers. You can then link that tenuous concept to my latent pinko unionism that has morphed into environmentalism. Following that splendid recital I will take you for an encore performance over a cuppa with my farming relatives so that they can add the little bits you will have missed to the ridiculous narrative.

Whilst asserting this farmer versus unionist attitude (which may still have a real social and historic basis I grant) the fact remains that some bugger is polluting the river. And he is a dairy farmer.

Nick J said...

David Stone you have picked it. Given we know that the Whanganui is well past retirement age how much must we owe it in super? And think of future payments given it won't die......

Grey I think the TOP idea has merit. I'm just worried that Gareth sees the whole world through a market mechanism.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"But it is a truth that conservatism is more wedded to the land than liberalism."

Hahahahaha! Conservatives are wedded to the old biblical concept of "conquering" the land and "taming" it. That's all. The downstream (pun intended) consequences of this are not only ignored generally, but also tax-exempt.:)

Anonymous said...

I've followed the water quality thing from the start and although the farmers aren't exactly left wing it's also clear that they aren't the devil that they are made out to be in this blog and comments. It's also clear that dairying can be done without damaging the water ways. Take a look at the water quality in dairy farm stronghold North Otago where you find Bowalley Road and Trotter's Creek:

Worst sites are all swimmable under new and old standards:
-Kakanui at Clifton Falls - E. coli 77n/100ml due to gull colony. No dairy farms upstream.
-Waiareka Creek - 180n/100ml. This creek used to be dry at times naturally. Irrigation company now supplements 100L/sec so although E. Coli is high it's a much improved creek due to irrigation because it now has water in it.
-Trotter's Creek - 70n/100ml due to dry land sheep and beef farming. No dairy farms in this catchment.

Worst site in all of Otago:
-The Water of Leith - 600n/100ml. No dairy farms - just urban filth.

As you can see the water quality picture is much more complicated than activists are making the left wing believe. By 2014 farmers had spent about $90,000 each on environmental projects. What will Dunedin do?

Anonymous said...

Nick J - a trout stream runs through our farm and 15 or so others and is clean and healthy. I believe it's due to the individual areas. Dairy farming CAN be done properly but that doesn't mean smaller farms like Chris reminisces about. It means larger spray irrigated farms in drier areas so run off is less frequent than high rain fall areas. That's why water quality is so good here. The change is happening on farm and has been for five or ten years now. The water quality debate is superfluous in the context of actually improving water quality because it's all been happening anyway.

Unknown said...

One often overlooked issue is the local councils, who provide resource consent for these factories, knowing full well that the catchments they overlay are already beyond the limit.

Nick J said...

Anonymous 11.34, I have no doubt that some areas and farmers have good environmental standards. The accord struck in Taranaki worked well around the mountain. I have seen the change most in the areas that were once "sheep farms" that are now dairy, for example the Mangatainoka which has gone black on the river bed with slime several summers in a row. Canterbury rivers that twenty years back were clean as are now so polluted with farm effluent and fertilizer run off that they are in effect "dead". Interestingly those areas still under sheep correspond with "clean water" fisheries.

So to conclude, yes many, maybe most farmers employ good practice, but the pollution is real and has to come from somewhere. My take is that regulations should be set according to the "good practice" that you and other farmers employ, and the regulations be policed severely on the rest who make the mess.

Tauhei Notts said...

Can somebody explain why Fonterra pay so little New Zealand income tax?
A question that is beyond my level of intelligence.

jh said...

The gap narrows between Johnes and Crohns

In fact Canterbury has the highest incidence in the world