Coronavirus: Forest & Bird unhappy at farmers' call to delay freshwater regulations

An environmental group is concerned at calls from the farming sector to delay new regulations around freshwater management due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federated Farmers would like to see the Government's proposed Essential Freshwater regulations put on hold while the country manages the crisis.

"New Zealand has so many challenges right in front of it, we need to be constantly willing to reassess priorities," said Federated Farmers president Katie Milne.

"Beating COVID-19 and building our economy back up again is our new priority."

Federated Farmers environment spokesperson Chris Allen said farmers will continue to work at improving their environmental impacts through good management practices and always looking to leave the land better than they found it.

He said the sector had many initiatives that are on-going via existing and upcoming regional water regulation, farm environment plans, Good Farming Practices, catchment groups and Dairy Tomorrow workstreams, all still working towards good water quality outcomes.

Federated Farmers environment spokesperson Chris Allen.
Federated Farmers environment spokesperson Chris Allen. Photo credit: Supplied

"When New Zealand gets on top of this crisis economically, we look forward to working with the government to make sure any freshwater regulation package is sensible, practical and affordable," said Allen.

However, Forest & Bird said a delay would put both environmental health and public health at risk.

"Our economy, our health, and our way of life depend on a healthy environment. One of the things these environmental regulations are designed to protect us from is the very threat we are facing now - widespread disease passed from animals to humans," said Forest & Bird Freshwater advocate Tom Kay.

"The National Policy Statements on Freshwater and Biodiversity, and the accompanying National Environmental Standards and stock exclusion regulations, will protect the health of our native plants and animals, and the health of New Zealanders and our communities.

"Zoonotic diseases which pass from animals to humans are not new to New Zealand. We were lucky to avoid mad cow disease, Ebola, MERS, SARS, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. 

"But we have more common zoonotic diseases that thousands of New Zealanders contract every year--Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, and Salmonella. We are still trying to eradicate Bovine Tuberculosis, which we have been fighting as a nation for over a century," said Kay.

He said Forest & Bird believed the agricultural industry has a key role to play in leading New Zealand out of the crisis, and in that lies an opportunity to lead the world in sustainable agriculture. 

"But it must be sustainable in all regards-for human health, for our environment, and for our economy."

Under the proposed regulations, there would be restrictions on further intensification of land use through interim measures, and from June 2020 new irrigation or conversion to dairying could only go ahead where there is evidence it will not increase pollution.