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There is still time to prevent Factory Farming in NZ

Three companies have applied for resource consent to establish massive dairy farms in the Mackenzie Basin, otherwise known as NZ’s High Country.

What’s unusual about these applications is that the cows would be confined indoors for most of the year. According to an article in Stuff:

Proposals by the three companies for resource consents for 16 new dairy farm developments managing nearly 18,000 cows housed in cubicle stables are before Environment Canterbury (ECan).

Under the plans, cows will be confined in cubicle stables 24 hours a day for eight months of the year, from March to October, and allowed outside for 12 hours a day from November to February.

Three companies have submitted applications to Environment Canterbury and they are available online; Southdown Holdings 7000 cows, Five Rivers Ltd 7000 cows, Williamson Holdings 3850 cows. The following information is taken directly from the combined numbers in their applications.

Number of cows:  17,850
Size of effluent ponds to be built: 414,000,000 litres
Daily effluent discharge: 1,743,000 litres per day
Water use: not specified but logically must be more than effluent discharge

There are some major problems with the introduction of large-scale factory dairy farming to New Zealand.

Our clean, green image we sell to the world is under serious threat. Already damaged from revelations about our heavy use of Palm Kernel and animal abuse on our largest dairy farms, allowing factory farming to get a foothold could well be the last nail in the coffin of our clean, green mythology and the billions of dollars of export earnings that rely on it.

The McKenzie country is not well suited to dairy farming. The huge amounts of food and water required every day will have to be transported to the cows. Likewise, the millions of litres of resulting effluent will be spread onto the surrounding land. The farms under application are based around the southern end of Lake Ohau, in the middle of what most of the world considers to be pristine, iconic New Zealand landscape.

According to Russel Norman, Greens co-leader:

If the proposals went ahead, vast amounts of cow urine and faeces would be discharged on to land daily, threatening pristine high country lakes and rivers with pollution and algal blooms.

Using Environment Waikato data that cows produced 15 times more waste than humans, it would be “like building a city for 270,000 people in the Mackenzie Basin and having them crap on the ground”.

The animal welfare issues with confining this many cows indoors are well known – the rest of the world already has extensive experience with intensive factory farming and the negative impacts on cow health and wellbeing are well documented.

Demonstrating their usual support for any farming practice that makes a profit, Federated Farmers said “so-called factory farming” cut costs, was environmentally friendly, and would not tarnish New Zealand’s reputation, in a quote to 3News.

You would think that Fonterra would be taking a leadership role, as they are one of the biggest single beneficiaries of New Zealand’s clean, green image we sell to the world (turnover $16B in 2008).

In a recent news article, New Zealand’s largest purchaser of milk, Fonterra is concerned about the damage this development could do to our international clean, green image. Sadly, the terms of their near-monopoly agreement with the government means they must collect milk from any farm that wants to supply them. While they can penalise farmers for poor quality milk, they cannot discriminate on sustainability or animal welfare grounds.

If their flagship indoor dairy farm near Beijing is anything to go by, Fonterra are happy to utilise factory farming in other parts of the world, but when it comes to New Zealand, they can see the problems (at least from a marketing perspective) with factory farming.

Now is the time to have a national conversation about where to draw the line. If we let factory dairy farms become established we will lose so much more than some high country land covered in tussock.

You can stop this happening but you need to act now. Public submissions close on 18th December – you can have your say by submitting your feedback to Ecan online. The three applications are Southdown Holdings, Five Rivers Ltd and Williamson Holdings.

I’ve prepared a guide to making your submision online based in part on the excellent NZ Greens’ Action Alert.

Blog and Press Coverage:

NZ Greens – Action Alert: Factory Farming in the Mackenzie Country
TVNZ – Govt, farmers at odds over factory farming
Stuff – Fonterra fears cow cubicles could mar brand
Foodweek – Greens oppose ‘factory farming’
NZ Greens – Battery cows: coming soon to a farm near you
HomePaddock – We can’t have it both ways
Bright Wings – Proposed dairy factory farming raises alarm
3News – “Factory farms” would harm NZ’s clean image – Greens
Stuff – Indoor cubicles for cows planned

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