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Audit Raises Concerns Over 'Clean Streams' Credibility

Published on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 15:30

The credibility of Fonterra’s annual reporting on the Clean Streams Accord has been cast into serious doubt after an independent audit of one of the Accord’s key measures exposed a major discrepancy.

Fish & Game NZ says the audit reveals a significant difference between what Fonterra reports as ‘progress’ around stock exclusion from waterways and what is actually being done on farm.

This was exposed by an independent audit, commissioned by MAF, which appears in the latest ‘Dairying and Clean Streams Accord Snapshot of Progress’ report released today.

“While Fonterra’s survey of farmers suggests 84% of properties have stock excluded from waterways, the reality is only half that number of farms nationally have complete stock exclusion – that’s clearly what MAF’s independent audit reveals,” says Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson.

“Given the extent to which the Accord achievements have been talked up in the past, this latest revelation raises questions about the accuracy of all the other performance targets reported to the New Zealand public, politicians and the government’s Land and Water Forum.

“It’s a woeful indictment on the legitimacy of the Accord, on dairying’s environmental ‘performance’ over the past decade and particularly the industry’s claim that self-policing is the way towards achieving improved water quality,” says Mr Johnson.

“MAF, or some independent body, should have been auditing the Accord years ago. Why has it taken eight years for MAF, which is party to the Accord, to check the accuracy of Fonterra’s reporting?”

Data in the Accord Snapshot is taken from Fonterra’s annual survey in which dairy farmers are asked questions to appraise their own environmental performance. On the other hand, the stock exclusion audit involved an independent technician visually assessing a randomly selected sample of farms.

“Fish & Game has constantly highlighted the problem of the dairy industry self-reporting and we’ve repeatedly questioned the ‘success’ of the Accord when the science clearly tells us water quality in most regions is still declining,” says Mr Johnson.

“The audit findings justify our concerns and the urgent need to require the industry to lift its environmental performance, rather than literally pay lip service to it.

“This also confirms the need for review of the Accord – Fish & Game has previously requested that we participate in this process. The review needs to incentivise the positive actions by the good farmers and impose behaviour-changing financial sanctions on those not meeting the requirements after nearly 10 years.

“A new agreement needs to address water quality by ensuring runoff from farming does not enter waterways. It also needs to address run-off properties and smaller streams where water quality is poor.”

Motives behind Fonterra’s fencing ‘initiative’ emerge

Fish & Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson says the release of the independent audit sheds light on the real reasons behind Fonterra’s sudden announcement last week that they will require suppliers to exclude stock from waterways.

“Clearly that move – which still wouldn’t take effect until 18 months out – was an attempt to blunt the fall-out from this exposé.

“However, what’s particularly frustrating about Fonterra’s knee-jerk response to enforce mandatory stock exclusion is that they have effectively only cemented in the old and inadequate provisions of the current Accord, the limitations of which they are well aware.

“Once again, they’ve completely neglected any reference to the all-important riparian buffer zones needed to soak up dairy runoff pollution. Fencing the stream edge excludes stock but does little to improve overall water quality. 

“On top of that they still adhere to the totally inadequate measure of an Accord waterway as being ‘wider than a stride and deeper than a Redband’ – this ignores feeder streams which provide important breeding and nursery habitat for fisheries and wildlife and, if left unprotected, still contribute to the dairy pollution entering the main water body.

“Fonterra, which is part of the Land and Water Forum (LAWF), knows such provisions are completely inadequate in addressing water quality. This is explicitly recognised in LAWF recommendation 12 which identifies the need for riparian buffer zone fencing. So why has Fonterra formalised a major barrier to its implementation?

“Are they going to tell their suppliers tomorrow to shift the fences they made them put in today in order to allow for riparian buffer zones they acknowledged through LAWF?”