Greens back farmers over wool product snubbed by Education ministry, but National's Christopher Luxon focused on 'value for money'

The wool sector has been snubbed by the Education ministry which has chosen synthetic carpet to be rolled out in 800 schools, rather than New Zealand woollen carpet. 

The ministry says the American-made carpet tiles are simply better - but farmers are furious a natural fibre like wool lost to a fibre derived from fossil fuels. 

US company Milliken has just been given millions of Kiwi taxpayer dollars to lay carpet in nearly 800 of our schools.

Milliken won the $8m contract from the Ministry of Education. Its solution-dyed-nylon carpet squares - which are plastic and made from fossil fuels - will soon be installed under the feet and bums of Kiwi kids. 

"The product we selected was substantially cheaper and not only that but it had far greater durability meaning that actually the whole of life value of this product was higher," said Ministry of Education head of property Sam Fowler. 

Missing out was a product made by Wools of New Zealand - locally grown, naturally fire resistant, and biodegradable yarn.

"You've got more than just the yarn itself," said Fowler. "You've got the adhesives, the backing and other elements to it and also all of these products are manufactured overseas so you need to take into account the broader sustainability of the product, not just the yarn." 

The snubbing has left the wool sector flabbergasted.

"Farmers are doing all they can to help the Government with this green agenda around the environment and climate change and then you have something like this when the Government is blatantly not supporting them back," said Campaign for Wool's Tom O'Sullivan. 

Toby Williams from Federated Farmers asked: "Why are we backing a multi-billion-dollar American company putting oil-based products on our floors?"

"It's absolutely nuts," Williams said. 

The wool industry has been in decline for decades. That's why the Ministry for Primary Industries is funding research and development of new wool products, including the wool carpet tiles the Education ministry snubbed. 

"Technology like these wools tiles hadn't been developed before, now they are," said Williams.

"And we're thumbing our nose to it. It's a real kick in the face for NZ Inc."

Usually, farmers have an ally in the National Party, but not today.

"Wool is a fantastic product. Ultimately though, it's about getting value for the taxpayer's money as well and that's ultimately a decision for the Ministry of Education," said National leader Christopher Luxon.

Instead, the Greens are backing sheep farmers on this one. 

"We're in the middle of a climate crisis and we're encouraging people to do the right thing, we also want to support the local communities, our rural communities. So the wool option was the one to go for here," said Greens agriculture spokesperson Teanau Tuioni.

The Education ministry didn't think so - now future generations of Kiwis will learn sitting on plastic fibres.