Steffan Browning

Toxic agenda bad for farmers

by Steffan Browning

I recently had an opinion piece published in the Straight Furrow newspaper.

Here is what I wrote.

(note: corrected from earlier post)

Toxic agenda erodes green brand

Our clean green brand is something we need to fiercely protect, but this Government is effectively eroding it instead. National has gutted the Emissions Trading Scheme and is not signing up to further binding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. In doing so they are setting New Zealand up in the eyes of the world as a nation not prepared to do our fair share for the environment. National has an ambitious agenda for mining in New Zealand but is choosing to ignore the potential impacts of this on our crucial agricultural sector. Farmers are waking up to the risks to their businesses of working to produce food alongside oil and gas wells. The Government’s latest attack on the environment is the stripping back of our crucial environmental law, the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Eroding our clean green marketing advantage through this persistent undercutting of environmental protection will take a chunk of farmers’ bottom lines. What New Zealand currently has to offer the world is clean, green, and safe food – the food that customers around the world want to feed to their kids. Food with provenance. As our markets increase their demand for these highest-quality products, New Zealand has the opportunity to step in and meet that demand. This way, we have the chance to look after our environment, produce high quality food, and get paid handsomely for it. Keeping a strong eye on a 100 percent commitment to the 100% Pure brand protects that marketing advantage. The clean green New Zealand brand is worth billions of dollars to New Zealand’s economy and as the Dicyandiamide fertiliser scare showed, that is risked if the world starts questioning how true that brand might be.

The most recent hit on the environment, in the form of changes to the RMA, is forefront in our minds. These changes are going to hit farmers in two ways. These changes will lead to less environmental protection and will diminish farmers’ abilities to take part in making decisions about what happens in their communities.

National’s proposed major changes to the RMA – the centrepiece of our environmental legislation – are about giving less meaning and weight to sustainability. This makes no sense when sustainability is becoming increasingly important to consumers of our products.

A discussion document and a bill currently going through Parliament will reduce farmers’ ability to have a say around their local council table. This is because the bill will make it easier for developments to be referred directly to the Environment Court rather than going to a council hearing first, and because the Government is proposing to make it easier for ministers to interfere and direct councils to change their regional and district plans. More decisions will be made in Wellington, instead of in local communities.

This Government is holding our clean green brand up as a nice to have but the Green Party sees it as a necessity. Our Prime Minister said that it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and compared it with McDonald’s slogan ‘I’m loving it’. But if our international markets conclude that our brand is a sham, it will all come falling down and we will lose our marketing advantage.

If we do not have a strong environment, we do not have a strong agricultural sector. The Government’s agenda is toxic to the environment and that is not good for farmers.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Steffan Browning on Fri, April 26th, 2013   

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