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Funding boost threatens NZ’s 100% pure brand

Oct 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

MAF MAINNZ’s  meat and dairy industries have received a multi-million dollar funding boost – but there is concern the successful bidders have only paid lip service to New Zealand’s clean green brand image.

Innovation across the primary sector got a $144 million injection of Government money, with two industry groups receiving funding approval from the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP).

Successful business plans from the dairy and red meat sectors were granted $321 million in the August round of funding.

A $170 million dairy programme will be led by DairyNZ and Fonterra, while Silver Fern Farms, PGG Wrightson and Landcorp Farming lead the $151 million red meat bid.

This could have had significant potential for genuine sustainability and to grow New Zealand’s image and green branding, if the investment focus was on sustainable organic and biological farming systems, says Organic NZ spokesman Steffan Browning.

“Instead, we are at risk of losing the opportunity to develop Brand New Zealand if we use the tax dollar for more synthetic intellectual property and commodity hyper-production.”

The PGP is a government-industry initiative that invests in significant programmes of research and innovation to boost the economic growth and sustainability of New Zealand’s primary industry, forestry and food sectors.

The Government has set aside $190 million for the first four years of the programme and will invest a further $70 million annually from the 2013/14 financial year.

Mr Browning says the $151 million red meat bid, which is in part consumer focused, can easily be directed to the global growth and high consumer demand for genuinely sustainable and organic, animal friendly and GE-free production.

The National government has allowed the once-successful Organic Advisory Service to lapse, he says.

If reactivated, it could help the Government reach its targets for conversion to certified organic production.

This would have spin-off effects of increasing environmental sustainability, animal welfare improvements and adding value to existing production.

The PGP bid read like a potential magic solution to the many contradictions made in mainstream dairy farming to New Zealand’s clean green 100% pure export and tourism brand, he says.

“However, clean, green or organic were not mentioned once.”

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry director general Murray Sherwin says the latest round of funding approval illustrates the huge potential that exists across New Zealand’s primary sector, and a new level of collaboration for the broader benefit of consumers and farmers alike.

“PGP is not about funding industry to do what they have always done,” he says.

“It’s about investing in forward-thinking, visionary business plans that have the potential to transform our primary sectors and bring about substantial and sustainable economic growth.”

He says both proposals have a strong focus on meeting market expectations, on sustainable production processes, innovation and a value chain perspective.

But Mr Browning says the Soil and Health Association (part of Organic NZ) is concerned the MAF director general and key stakeholders in the DairyNZ staff need to make sure these words are not “flaky sustainability ideas supporting new chemical and microbial fixes, and unnatural pastures and animals”.

None of the PGP partners or the Agriculture Minister David Carter used the clean green image or 100% Pure brand in their media releases.

For Mr Browning, this raises the question of whether the millions of dollars allocated to this innovation are genuinely sustainable.

“At DairyNZ’s May conference, there was blatant promotion of GE pastures with no option for organic or biological farming,” he says.

Dairy farmers in New Zealand often rely on high volume fertilisers and dietary and rumen interventions, including antibiotic growth promoters and unsustainable pastoral band-aids such as nitrification inhibitors.

“This is absolute foolishness and a recipe for disaster.”

DairyNZ needs to move away from anything that looks like GE and move closer to organics to produce the product the global consumers are increasingly demanding, he says.

“Research is useful, but what DairyNZ needs most is to support farmers to convert to a more sustainable method of organic production.

“Surely, this is a better proposition than more research, bad advice and greedy intellectual property ownership that have created the problems and unsustainable production that is currently supported by the dairy industry.”

The benefits of organic agriculture include reduced vet bills, feed self-reliance, increased carbon sequestration and climate resilience, better animal welfare, and an improvement in farmer lifestyles.

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