He says the attacks on dairy farmers by Greenpeace amount to scare-mongering, and unfairly blame dairying as the single polluter of rivers and drinking water in New Zealand.
Dr Mackle challenges Greenpeace to actively work together with dairy, and other rural sectors, and urban communities, to take practical steps to improve the state of our rivers.
“In the television advertisement that we challenged, as well as in comments to media, Greenpeace is deliberately grand-standing, voicing their opinion as if it is fact,” says Dr Mackle.
“While we’re extremely proud of the game-changing past 10 years on dairy farms, we do know there is more to do – no one is denying that. Dairy farmers are on a journey to turn around what has been 150 years in the making as a result of activity that includes deforestation and urbanisation, as well as farming.
“The vast majority of farmers want to leave their rivers and land in a better state than they found them,” he says.
“Only by working together with other agricultural sectors, and our urban cousins, can we achieve the changes that we all desire.”
Dr Mackle says DairyNZ has an obligation on behalf of its 12,000 dairy farmers to call out Greenpeace.
“We’re disappointed that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an advertising industry body, did not uphold our complaint about the advert that effectively accuses dairying of being the cause of waterway pollution without any reference to other sources, many of which have been recently highlighted, but, ironically, not by Greenpeace.
“DairyNZ has decided not to appeal, even though we know that the advert is misleading and hugely unfair to the dairy sector.
“The ASA has accorded Greenpeace a greater level of freedom of expression in their advertising than that afforded standard advertising. They do this under their positioning that Greenpeace is an advocacy organisation. We also note that there have been very few successful appeals to the ASA against this form of ‘advocacy advertising’ where opinion-based messages are presented as fact.
Dr Mackle says even Greenpeace in its defence to the ASA argued that ‘no reasonable viewer would interpret the advertisement to suggest that dairy farming is solely responsible for the pollution of the depicted river. Any reasonable viewer would understand that in an industrial and post-industrial society, there are a variety of sources of pollution’.
“Yet their ad, due to way they portray the issue to gain maximum impact, creates the impression that dairy is solely to blame.”
DairyNZ will continue to represent farmers, he says, and talk about the significant investment being made to improve the condition of rivers, as well as the hard-working science that has helped improve water quality on dairy farms over the past five years.
“All of this has been conveniently ignored by Greenpeace, and subsequently by a number of commentators. By appealing we would have only given more airtime to misleading information and providing Greenpeace a soapbox to stand on,” Dr Mackle says.
In using dairy as a whipping boy, he says, Greenpeace and like-minded critics showed their lack of knowledge of the current, and publicly available, facts about the various sources of water pollutants and the mitigations dairy farmers have put in place.
“They also undermine the work regional and rural councils have done recently to ensure ongoing dialogue, improvements, and enforcement. Greenpeace understands the efforts being made to address these issues. We invited Greenpeace to meet with us in early December when we shared information about the good work that farmers and scientists are doing to improve the environment. However, acknowledgement of this doesn’t support their narrative when they are out fund raising.”
Dr Mackle notes that just over this past weekend NIWA commented on the improvement of water quality in many of the monitored rivers, attributing some of the improvement to dairy’s focus on fencing waterways to exclude stock, and that a good start had been made.
He says a crucial dairy sector initiative is the Sustainable Dairying Water Accord, a public agreement that is independently audited, and covers dairy farmers, dairy companies, central government, regional councils and the Federation of Maori Authorities. Year three results of work being carried out under the Accord are due for release at the end of March. Current accord information can be found here dairynz.co.nz/wateraccord
“Our dairy farmers are fully committed to this accord, to continuing to improve their footprint. They have spent over $1 billion so far on on-farm effluent management systems, fencing waterways and building bridges. They have also planted millions of trees in significant riparian planting and wetland revegetation projects.
DairyNZ works actively works with environmental groups to raise issues and monitor improvements.
Dr Mackle says the scare-mongering and finger-pointing at dairy needs to stop, and that working together as a country would achieve the best outcomes for everyone and the environment.
Maggie Kerrigan, DairyNZ
027 237 0358