Crapfarms – how many times?

So, dairy farming company CraFarms has been charged yet again for alleged dirty dairying on a farm near Hamilton. They were in court yesterday in Te Awamutu, prosecuted by Environment Waikato. Their defence: “the farm’s effluent system had difficulties managing the herd size.” Imagine if Air NZ said, “sorry the landing gear collapsed due to difficulties holding up the passenger weight (because we overloaded the plane!)”. Pathetic.

This charge is another in a continuing litany of convictions for pollution offences. Russel spoke about their past record in Parliament last year:

We would never let Parliament outlaw whitebaiting, but the parties in this House are perfectly happy to let the giant industrial dairy polluter CraFarm pour so much cow faeces and urine and fertiliser into our rivers that it kills the species that make up the whitebait catch. CraFarm are known colloquially as “CrapFarm”. We would never let a regional council stop people whitebaiting, but when the industrial dairy polluter CraFarm ends up in front of the Environment Court four times in a row for polluting rivers and groundwater with cow faeces and urine we just let them carry on doing it. When “CrapFarm” got pinged in the Environment Court with a $37,500 fine for polluting a pristine river in the Hawke’s Bay, it did not care. It did not care because it had a $5 million turnover on that property—it was a minor expense.

Which makes me scratch my favourite wart and think – how many times do you have to be convicted of polluting before you are banned from farming?

A recidivist drink-driver or speeder gets their licence to drive revoked. Just last week a Hawke’s Bay farmer was banned from farming for 10 years after admitting ill-treating hundreds of his animals.

Why not with pollution? Do we need to go beyond just increasing fines in the RMA (one of the few good ideas in the RMA reform bill), and introduce a limit to how often bad farmers can get away with stuffing the environment and bringing down the good name of all the farmers who do the right thing?

However, farmers, like the rest of us, do make mistakes and I was pleased to see this “restorative justice” approach to a Waimate farmer who damaged a stream installing a waterpipe. The farmer acknowledged his guilt, ECan recognised good work he’d done elsewhere on the farm, and compensation will go to fixing the damage. Hopefully, he won’t make the same mistake twice.

Addendum: Just after posting I noticed yet another instance highlighted on NoRightTurn. NRT writes:

A Manawatu man has been given a record fine under the RMA for illegally discharging farm effluent onto land, and “meaty smelling” waste into the Manawatu River. Ken Thurston was fined $140,000 for “deliberate and calculated” discharges aimed at saving money. But the question is whether it was enough to outweigh the profits he made from his pollution. And if it wasn’t, its neither a punishment or a deterrant, but merely a cost of doing business.

6 Comments Posted

  1. I think there are two problems here:
    1) The fines system is unfair because it is biased towards the wealthy, and New Zealand has severe distribution of wealth problems. A fine might be a massive punishment for the poor, but be a trivial slap on the hand for those with more money. There are two potential solutions to this problem:
    a) We could try to reduce the distribution of wealth problems in New Zealand. The way to do this would be to raise minimum wages, and set up a more progressive tax regime, where people get exponentially declining returns as their pre-tax income increases. People who earn more still get to keep more after tax, but it becomes harder and harder to increase your after-tax income as the after tax income increases. As well as discouraging the exploitation of workers, this would mean the fines system was a lot fairer, as there would be much lower discrepancies between the wealth of individuals.
    b) We could make the fines system proportional. The state could assess a finable value of people based on the greater of that person’s annual income, or one-tenth of their net worth. Businesses would be assessed based on their annual revenue and net worth. Fines would then be set as a proportion of the finable value. So for example, these big businesses could be fined 30% of their annual revenue each time they fail to look after the environment. This would severely reduce their profits, and they might start to take notice of the environmental issues.

    2) People are able to damage the environment, and yield the benefits of this damage, and yet it is other people who pay the costs (not just monetary costs, but a whole raft of suffering). Councils might be able to get back the actual monetary costs of cleanups, but there are other types of damage, like polluted, degraded streams. Some of this damage will never recover and no amount of cleanup will change this. Other parts of the damage will eventually recover on their own, but in the meantime, everyone has to suffer from the damage which only benefited a few of the very rich.

    So therefore, what is really needed is an organisation which can bring civil lawsuits in the name of the environment (separate from the criminal penalties against infringers). They will assess and put a monetary value on the true costs to soceity of the damage done by polluters (perhaps even if they aren’t committing any crimes). For example, a farmer which pollutes a stream would owe ‘the environment’ a certain amount of money for their pollution – and the agency representing the environment would be able to sue to recover this if it needs to. We could set a national target for how much damage is done, and make the prices for environmental damage increase or decrease with demand, so the total ‘supply’ of environmental damage is capped. This way, polluters pay for the damage they do to the environment (and this is redistributed to fund environmental initiatives).

    If we do all this, it will no longer pay to be dirty. Most environmental criminals follow the money – if you get richer by being cleaner, you won’t be dirty.

  2. I would have thought that the courts would have ordered the company to clean up their act. Then should they fail to do so and are brought back before the courts, they can be hit with contempt of court and the gloves can come off so they can be punished appropriately, such as the farm managers being required to perform community service. That might lead to a change of behaviour.


  3. A farm that consistently pollutes (to be defined) should be taken over by a statutory manager and either placed under appropriate ongoing management or sold off and the proceeds go to pay for the damage done with any surplus being returned to the owner who allowed the pollution to go on and on in the first place.

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