Dirty Dairying in New Zealand

The dairy farming industry causes a negative effect on New Zealand waterways. That is fact. The country is home to approximately six million cows which produce the equivalent amount of faeces as 70 million people! The effluents and fertilizers from farms can then drain through the soil and contaminate ground water or can run off into local a waterway, which significantly increases the nitrogen levels and decreases pH levels in the water affecting the natural environment of the waterway.

Should these pollutants enter waterways, the environment is encouraging for algae and algal blooms which have an invasive property and have the ability to quickly take over the waterway.

Should the above scenario occur, there would be a very evident decrease of fish life in the water as the algae’s consume large amounts of oxygen therefore deoxygenizing the water making it near impossible for fish to survive. Some forms of algal blooms can fatal, and can affect livestock, wildlife, marine animals and humans.

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Another waterway issue that is aggravated by dairy farming is riparian erosion, which is the erosion from the banks of waterways. The issue arises when cows are allowed to graze or moved near waterways. The cows hooves effectively destroy waterways natural banks which has the potentially to alter the flow of water which can negatively affect fish life downstream. The other issue caused by cows trampling through waterways is that the cows push soil into the water which can deprive organisms (such as plankton) in the water from light which could destroy a waterways food cycle.

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Yet another waterway issue that is linked to dairy farming is when fertilizers and effluent runs off into waterways, there is a possibility that there are water catchments on the same waterway. Especially on rural properties, water is normally collected from local waterways which could in fact be contaminated by farm waste/run off. People that drink contaminated water can suffer from gastroenteritis, skin tumors, e. coli, skin rashes, swollen lips and in severe cases, death!

The WWF research has concluded that 43% of monitored New Zealand Lakes are classes as polluted, which is directly linked to the endangerment of fresh water crayfish, mussels and 60% of New Zealand native fish species. The pollution in these waterways has caused on average 25,000 waterborne disease cases annually. The study also found that 90% of New Zealand waterways were unsafe to swim in let alone be drunk from! It is possible that these statistics are the consequence of ‘dirty dairying’.


Over the last 5 years, cow numbers have increased by one million! And of the seven million cows in New Zealand, they produce the equivalent of manure as 70 million people!!!


Fonterra is an international dairy company who supplies New Zealand dairy products to global consumers and makes an annual profit of $459,000,000. Fonterra has a large bias in the issue of dairy farming and the pollution of waterways and have created a dedicated website promoting the pollution reduction initiatives that have been put in place by the company.

The website ‘shows off’ what Fonterra has done in a bid to decrease water pollution and displays statistics on what the initiative has achieved however excludes the data about the farms that are not environmentally friendly and the damage that they cause to New Zealand waterways. Unfortunately the company will never put the environment before profit, the shareholders of the company demand it to preform financially (even ethical investors want return on their investment) and if Fonterra did put more emphasis on the environment at the expense of profit, the shareholders would vote to change the CEO of the company.

Fonterra has introduced several initiatives in order to combat the issue of dairy waterway pollution. The company has made it a requirement that farmers that supply them keep their stock away from waterways and have sent advisors to all suppliers to make sure that all waterways larger than 1 meter wide are fenced off. Fonterra state that they are committed to keeping dairy farming environmentally friendly so they can work alongside natural habitats and eco systems of healthy living water.

The ‘living water’ website states that Fonterra recognizes that “quality water from natural habitats underpins New Zealand’s environmental health and economic prosperity” and they are committed to preventing dairy farms contaminating waterways. Fonterra claims that they have are investing $20,000,000 over a ten year period which is to be used to clean up New Zealand waterways that are under threat in partnership with the Department of Conservation. By investing in this campaign, it allows Fonterra to perpetuate its clean green milk image allowing the company to request a higher price for the dairy products.

This campaign is also to the advantage of the Department of Conservation as they receive funding from Fonterra so they can clean up the affected waterways. It seems that Fonterra is admitting that waste from dairy farms are the cause of waterway pollution and the company is taking steps to improve the water quality of the affected waterways. Fonterra does not quote very much biological information but instead promotes what Fonterra is doing to solve the problem.


The organization ‘SAFE’ believes that the dairy industry has an ongoing problem of non-compliance with environmental regulations; the organization even goes on to accuse most farmers of “allowing animal excrement to pollute the waterways”. In their online statement of the issue, SAFE notes dairy farms use of agrochemicals such as fertilizer and pesticides and how these chemicals can contaminate ground water and flow down to waterways where the pollution could cause the death of micro-organisms and fish life.

The website also states several major waterways in New Zealand that are affected by dairy pollution, in doing so the organization increases public support for the cause as these waterways are known for their beauty. SAFE then goes on to criticize current efforts to reduce the pollution of dairy farming, saying, “Only 60% of dairy farms properly treat or discharge effluent, even after efforts to limit negative impacts”.

The organization also states that some dairy pollution is not all from carelessness but in some cases intentional dumping of cow effluent had occurred, the amount of these cases exceeded 300 charges over a four year period. The organization has a bias against dairy farming as SAFE is an animal welfare organization and are currently running campaigns against the dairy industry and the animal welfare issues that are caused by it (such as calf induction). It is no surprise that SAFE has a strong point of view regarding dairy farming and the pollution of waterways in an attempt to build a stronger case against

the dairy farm industry. The organization has quoted statistics which are against dairy farming and does not talk about current initiatives which are reducing the pollution to allow the reader to infer that the problem is being ignored which in fact it has not been. The source does state fact however it is done in a misleading way.


“Land and water, which comprises the fundamental natural elements of this habitat, is a finite natural resource. It is also the same natural resource that underpins primary industry.

Every time land or water is allocated to an activity that diminishes its availability for sports fish or game bird habitat, or degrades (through pollution) that which remains, it reduces the sports fish & game resource that underpins Fish & Game’s reason-for-being. ” – The New Zealand Fish and Game Council The New Zealand Fish and Game Council have a strong interest in protecting New Zealand waterways so that recreational fishing can still occur in future generations. The organization states that it does not have an anti-dairy perspective but is against dirty dairying.

The webpage that the Fish and Game Council have stated their point of view on looks artificially unbiased however this seems not to be the case. Fish and Game have chosen to exclude curtain facts for example, the effectiveness of current pollution reducing initiatives is not mentioned only stating that such programs are voluntary, again allowing the reader to infer that not many are dairy farmers participating in such programs and those who are haven’t seen a large improvement.

The source looks factual however the website contains little biological fact. Fish and Game New Zealand state that they have an interest in sustaining waterways allowing life to be present in them so that recreational fishing activity can continue unaffected in New Zealand. Fish and Game also mentions how New Zealand’s export industry may be harmed if the country’s ‘clean green/100% pure’ image was degraded which could potentially cause a boycott by international consumers.

The Council then go on to say that in general, dairy farms have failed to meet their legal obligation to “avoid any adverse effect on the environment arising from an activity carried on by or on behalf of that person” as stated in section 17 of the Resource Management Act of 1991. The New Zealand Fish and Game Council would like to see riparian buffer zones around farm waterways and independently audited management plans in an attempt to reduce the effect of the pollution created from dairy farming.

Fish and Game believe that the “primary duty lies with agriculture itself; and within agriculture it lies with the various agricultural sector leadership bodies. ” The Council also says that the central and local governments are also responsible for making change happen.


I believe that the pollution caused by dairy farms may cause some significant consequences to the local eco habitat; however I disagree with opinions that believe Fonterra is ignoring the problem.

It has been scientifically proven by independent scientists that fertilizer and effluent run off from dairy farms has the potential to cause severe, irreversible consequences such as deoxygenization of waterways as stated above in ‘Biological Ideas’. I was shocked at the statistic regarding the amount of polluted waterways in New Zealand (43% of monitored waterways, as stated above), it is quite a possibility that the streams and rivers that I once swam in are now polluted by this filth as the amount of cattle in New Zealand has increased by one million over a five year period as stated in the biological ideas section above.

I am very concerned about the possibilities of algal blooms in our waters due to dairying as the consequences of them are severe, on average. The blooms have to ability to effectively ‘neutralize’ a waterway as algaes can deoxygenize water (as stated above) which is quite disturbing, it’s scary almost how an algae can take over a whole waterway and deprive all the life in the water of oxygen.

Not only does this matter affect those who fall ill from drinking from infected water (approximately 25,000 people a year, as stated above) and those who rely on the fish life in the contaminated waterways but also myself and all other New Zealanders. Those who become sick from drinking contaminated water are entitled to subsidized medical care, at the expense of the taxpayer. Another way that polluted waterways affect the whole nation is through the tourism industry as many tourist come to New Zealand (2,500,000 annually) to observe the country’s ‘clean green’ environment.

The polluted waterways may degrade this ‘clean green’ image causing a decrease in international visitors which may result in a decrease in New Zealand’s net income which force the government to raise taxes. I strongly believe that the New Zealand tourist industry is significant to the country’s economy due to the amount of people it bring to the country (2,500,000) and the money that they bring and therefore must be treated as such by the citizens of New Zealand.

I believe that the effort to clean up New Zealand waterways by Fonterra is a good intuitive and a generous act from the company as they have no obligation to do so. Although the company will never protect the environment at the cost of profit, the $20 million investment in my opinion was less an ethical decision but more of a public relations one as Fonterra has received a bad environmental reputation through the media.

Overall I believe that dairy pollution is a problem in New Zealand, less of a problem than some environmentalists’ state and more than some dairy organizations state, however there is a problem. The statistic on the issue are interesting an some even alarming however the problem is known and Fonterra is putting in place standards that their suppliers must abide by including making them fence off waterways over one meter in width. I look forward to seeing the progress in the resolution of this issue and the changes that must be made in order to achieve this.


Riparian Strip: A riparian strip is an animal exclusion zone between dairy cows and a waterway which is covered by riparian vegetation which filters the pollutants from farms, preventing them from running off into the waterways. Biologists suggest that a riparian strip should cover the 100m between a waterway and cows so that the plants can absorb and filter the pollutants adequately before they reach the waterways. The roots of the plants in the strip strengthen the banks of waterways and prevent erosion whilst preventing flood damage.

Simply fencing the area around a waterway does have a positive effect on the water quality of the waterway however this does not protect the waterway from run off from the farm, this method alone is not recommended however is better than nothing. Manure Management: Managing cow manure is an essential practice on dairy farms, after the cows have passes through the milking shed the floor will be covered in cow manure. A lot of farmers simply hose this manure down to a river or into a drain that outputs into a local waterway.

A more environmentally friendly way of disposing the waste could be to hose the water to a drain which is connected to a holding tank; this manure may be used in the future to be irrigated onto the paddock as a form of fertilizer. This way not a much manure is being dumped into waterways and this method is more economical for the farm as less money will need to be spent on fertilizer as the manure contains large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus which are essential for plant growth.

Soil Testing: By testing the soil of cow paddocks, farmers can see exactly how much fertilizer is needed for optimal plant pasture growth. By knowing exactly how much fertilizer needs to be applied, farmers can apply just the right amount so that the grass can absorb the nutrients and therefore reduces the fertilizer makes its way into the water. This solution also works out to be more economical to the farmer as it prevents the farmer applying to much fertilizer which would be more expensive.

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Dirty Dairying in New Zealand. (2016, Jul 06). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/dirty-dairying-in-new-zealand-essay

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