Dirty dairying in New Zealand | The Jackal

6 Jun 2012

Dirty dairying in New Zealand

Yesterday, the Dominion Post reported:

Figures obtained from the 17 regional councils and unitary authorities reveal that since July 1, 2008, there have been 151 prosecutions involving more than 300 charges against 198 companies or individuals for unlawful discharges of dairy effluent affecting land or water.

Three entities were prosecuted twice: the Crafars' company Hillside Ltd, Awarua Farms Ltd and Philip Woolley.

Every council provided details of the parties prosecuted and their sentences, except Otago Regional Council, which refused to supply the information as it could not be sure it was "unequivocally accurate".

Environment Court-imposed fines collected from offending parties totalled at least $3,260,825.

A further 13 individuals have received community work sentences totalling 1650 hours. Two received sentences of community detention of three and six months.

For lesser offences involving dairy effluent discharges, councils have issued 1698 abatement notices and 1564 infringement notices.

Abatement notices require someone to stop any activity that contravenes the Resource Management Act, a resource consent or a council plan. Infringement notices impose an instant fine of $300 to $1000.

Prosecutions are taken only in the most serious cases, after councils have weighed various factors, including the actual and potential effects of the discharge, whether it was deliberate, the attitude of the offender, profits made from the offending and the efforts made to clean up or remedy after the discharge.

So the approximately $3.3 million collected in fines was only for the most serious cases. Being that regional councils have a disproportionate amount of farmers on their boards, who are less willing to seek prosecutions, it's likely that the problem is far worse than the figures represent.

Marty Sharpe also reports that there's been a reduction in the number of convictions, which fell from 51 in 2008-09 to 18 in the year to date.

The article also states that "abatement notices and infringement notices have also decreased, from 537 to 329 and 500 to 330." But I'm guessing this is also comparing 2008-09 figures with five months to June, which would actually constitue an increase in abatement and infringement notices for 2012.

More slaps on the wrist instead of convictions isn't going to solve the problem.

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said water quality in lowland areas continued to decline and "after all these years of the issues around dairying and the environment the numbers are still very disappointing".

Mr Johnson said the agriculture sector needed to publicly commit to "mandatory, environmentally sustainable, best on-farm practice" with regular published audits.

It should also be dealing with its own poor performers rather than leaving it to ratepayer-funded regional councils.

These are good suggestions. It costs ratepayers millions of dollars per year to take dirty dairy farmers to court. These costs should be met by the industry. I would also suggest that the dairy industry should fund direct efforts to clean up the worst polluted waterways.