A group representing the country's dairy sector has labelled a display at Te Papa as 'highly deceptive' in how it represents farmers.
There's been anger among farmers over a bottle of water labelled as "water from a typical farm stream" which the museum revealed had been dyed brown.
The bottle is part of a display in Te Papa's Taiao Nature exhibition and the bottle's label features an image of a cow defecating in a waterway, with the word 'undrinkable.'
"It's incredibly disappointing to see our national museum Te Papa reinforcing an overly simplistic anti-farming narrative that negatively impacts the public's perception of New Zealand farmers and the dairy sector," said Dairy NZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.
"The water in their display is not reflective of what your average farm stream in NZ would look like.
"Farmers were right in demanding to know when and where this water was taken from. Te Papa has since confessed that the water wasn't actually from a farm at all but was made up in a back room using brown dye."
The group is also upset about how the bottle was labelled and how the sector was represented.
"The imagery on the bottle of a cow standing in water defecating is highly deceptive and entirely out of step with the reality of dairy farming in New Zealand today, where we are proud to have fenced off 98.3 percent of waterways in recent years.
"Farmers who have done the right thing and voluntarily invested their time and their money to fence off waterways and plant riparian strips deserve better than this from their national museum."
Dr Mackle said the situation was all the more disappointing given the annual Dairy Environment Leaders Forum dinner was hosted at Te Papa recently to celebrate the great work dairy farmers had undertaken.
In response to concerns initially raised by National's agriculture spokesperson, Todd Muller, Te Papa said the display showed that water quality can't be judged on its appearance.
"The dairy stream example is one of nine, and sits right next to a city stormwater bottle and below a forestry stream water bottle," it said.
"The water in each bottle is dyed to symbolise different kinds of water," Te Papa spokeswoman Kate Camp told Stuff.
"This display is about telling the story of New Zealand waterways. It's based on robust research that shows that many waterways in New Zealand - in urban and rural areas - aren't fit to drink or to swim in."
Farmers have been sharing images of water from their farm streams, with many also planning to send bottles of water to Te Papa in Wellington.