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Dairy Industry’s Environmental Accountability Undermined

02 September 2019

NEW ZEALAND - The dairy industry’s decision to disband an environmental leaders group that includes representatives from outside the industry undermines the credibility and accountability of the industry’s attempts to reduce freshwater pollution, Forest & Bird says.

Forest & Bird’s Chief Conservation Advisor Kevin Hackwell was an independent observer on the group, the Dairy Environment Leaders Group (DELG), along with dairy industry bodies and other external stakeholders, including central and regional government, the Federation of Maori Authorities, Beef & Lamb and others.

"The dairy industry is under real pressure over water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and habitat destruction. Surveys show the decline in freshwater quality is one of the most important issues for New Zealanders.

"This is a time when the industry should be wanting to work more closely with its many community stakeholders, rather than turning away from them," says Mr Hackwell.

"There’s a lot of value having outside voices who are able to reflect the community’s environmental concerns. The industry can’t push away community stakeholders and then expect those communities to trust the decisions they make.

"The industry wants to self-regulate but the record of worsening water quality shows that having rules set and audited by the industry just won’t work.

"It’s crucial the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management coming out on Thursday should include strict rules to improve water quality."

Land, Air, Water Aotearoa’s (LAWA) most recent analysis of trends between 2008 and 2017 shows that there were nearly twice as many sites where national water quality was degrading (42 percent) than sites where it was improving (25 percent).

Around three-quarters of native freshwater fish are at risk of extinction, most rivers in rural New Zealand are no longer safe for swimming due to effluent and excess nutrients, and in places like Hawke’s Bay, Otago and Canterbury, too much water is being extracted from rivers for irrigation.

DELG chairman Alister Body announced today that DELG and its Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord strategy would be replaced by a wider strategy called Dairy Tomorrow. The new strategy will be implemented and overseen by an industry group that will exclude independent stakeholders.

"Without these voices helping to make key decisions, the dairy industry is likely to be less responsive to the need to constantly improve its environmental management, and to deal with its poor performers," says Mr Hackwell.

Under the Sustainable Water: Dairy Accord and the preceding Clean Stream Accord, dairy farmers’ rates of non-compliance of effluent discharge rules were regularly reported.

"Over the last 15 years, the accords have revealed disturbingly high levels of non-compliance – over 20% in many regions – and inadequate enforcement by many regional councils. However, under the new Dairy Tomorrow structure, this reporting and accountability will disappear," Mr Hackwell says.

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