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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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What is that on your shoes?

27 July 2018

New Zealand is a nation built on the back of sheep and sustained by the udders of cows.

Our primary industries have been the backbone of an economy that has had its ups and downs but in recent times has ridden a fairly buoyant wave of good international prices for our dairy production. One only has to look at how much we pay for milk, butter and cheese at the local supermarket to see this.

I've asked this before but really need to inquire again: have we (or should we have) reached peak cow?

The reason I ask this today is because I read this Stuff story this morning and was somewhat worried by what I discovered.

As a people, Kiwis tend to pride themselves on their "green" credentials, even if such pride is not justified.

We have some of the most stunning natural wonders on the planet and we pride ourselves on the clean/green nature of our "long white cloud", even though far too many of our rivers are unswimable -- largely as a result of our primary production.

But what about our effect on the environment of other countries?

Do we give a damn that our dairy industry is not only fouling our own waterways but also playing a role in the deforestation of other countries?

I'm talking about the ongoing importation of Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) from places like Indonesia, where the clear-felling of natural rainforests in favour of palm oil plantations is endangering the balance of nature and very existence of species such orangutan.

According to the Stuff report, New Zealand simply doesn't have enough land to support growing sufficient supplementary dairy food for its current stocking levels -- hence the need to import PKE.

I'm sorry but this, combined with the ongoing damage to our own environment, clearly indicates that New Zealand has too many cows for the available resources -- and that's neither good nor sustainable.

When will those in charge wake up to the fact that, as a player in an international economy, we need to move with the times and come up with new products and services with which to earn valuable overseas currency?

It strikes me that when it comes to sustaining ourselves, New Zealand has responded to a need for greater overseas earnings (needed to support its rapidly growing population) by simply turning up the volume on existing revenue sources. This has resulted in a massive intensification of dairy and other agricultural activities -- much to the cost of the environment, both here and abroad.

Even from the point of view of export receipts, we are slowly shooting ourselves in the foot by doing this. Our largest earner of overseas funds is the tourism industry -- but will people really want to fly half-way around the world to look at festering streams and rank rivers -- should this over-intensification of our primary sector continue?

I've also written at length on multiple occasions about the risks of putting all our eggs in one basket (so to speak). We've seen that M.Bovis has rapidly spread throughout the country, albeit with little effect on production to date -- but what happens when the pathogen is not something as benign as MB? What happens when it's a viral or bacterial infection that all but destroys our dairy production? Where's our backup plan?

A failure to plan is a plan to fail, as they say and right now it looks as if we're sailing down the stream of dairy exports with our fingers firmly in our ears shouting "nya nya nya nya" in the hope that the inevitable will never happen.

Meanwhile, the environment suffers and, when the shite hits the fan (as it will), the entire nation will find itself racking up huge levels of international debt just to pay the bills and put food on the table.

Come on New Zealand, surely we're smarter than that?

What do readers think?

Are we simply choosing to ignore the unpalatable future that we face if we don't start putting the brakes on our primary industries and rolling out viable options for earning export receipts?

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