Allan Baird from the Federated Farmers' dairy section sparked a flurry of responses in the Southland Times when he suggested that the science behind the deterioration of water quality in the Waituna catchment needed to be reviewed because the scientists involved had vested interests. There was a prominent article, an opinion piece from Ali Timms (the Environment Southland Chair), a letter from the ES director of environmental management and a letter from a concerned political activist.
Environmental reporter, Scott MacKay, got a response from Environment Southland Chief Executive Ciaran Keogh who explained the multiple agency, peer reviewed nature of the science gathered. This should have discounted Mr Baird's suggestion that the science wasn't robust, however, he has since claimed that it was the peer reviewing that caused the issue.
"When spoken to yesterday, Mr Baird said the original Environment Southland report about the lagoon was not alarmist, but when peer reviewed that view changed and frightened the regional council into action.
He believed this happened because some of the scientists involved were looking for more work, so he was not certain the science was completely accurate."
It seems Mr Baird wants it both ways, he initially claimed the science was flawed because it lacked robust peer reviews and then he has suggested a conspiracy theory around scientists jointly fabricating the evidence to ensure further employment.
In talking to local people who have regular contact with our waterways through their recreational activities there is a real awareness that things are not well with our water. Whitebaiters and fishermen are noticing an obvious reduction in catches and from their own perception the clarity and cleanliness of the rivers is in decline. The science supports what they have noticed themselves.
Federated Farmers are using a global approach, common with many major industries, to discredit and devalue science and scientists who restrict their business interests. They have been successful in shifting pubic opinion away from the huge scientific evidence for man made climate change and there is a danger that our local scientists will be dealt with in a similar fashion. Federated Farmers have a popular ally in our Prime Minister, John Key, who has already questioned the standing of respected scientist, Dr Mike Joy, and repeated the view that there is no need for concern because our river are still better than most in the world.
Surely we should be raising the bar for environmental standards in this country to a level that is amongst the highest in the world rather than being satisfied with mediocrity. The way to truly make a difference in protecting our water is to have clear standards for quality and give water an actual monetary value, both are priorities in the Green Party's plan to clean up our rivers.