NZ’s “Non-Negotiable” Mythology: Deconstructing The Dairy Industry’s Latest Propaganda Campaign

By   /   March 15, 2017  /   28 Comments

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NEW ZEALAND’S DAIRY INDUSTRY was recently compared to the NRA. A better comparison would be the United States oil industry. Like the National Rifle Association the US oil industry’s lobbying power is legendary. To set one’s face against either group is generally considered to be career suicide – especially if you’re a career politician.

NEW ZEALAND’S DAIRY INDUSTRY was recently compared to the NRA. A better comparison would be the United States oil industry. Like the National Rifle Association the US oil industry’s lobbying power is legendary. To set one’s face against either group is generally considered to be career suicide – especially if you’re a career politician.

The US oil industry is the better comparison because, like our own dairy industry, it plays a central role in its national economy. Both industries are strategically positioned to bend governments to their will.

Shortly after assuming the office of Vice-President in 2001, Dick Cheney convened a secret conclave of US oil interests. The proceedings of that gathering remain inaccessible to ordinary Americans. By 2008, however, the effects of the decisions taken at Cheney’s Energy Summit were measurable across the entire planet. The Vice-President was unrepentant, reaffirming to Fox News in the dying days of the Bush Administration the message that his boss’s father, President George H W Bush had delivered to the Rio Earth Summit way back in 1992: “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”

Equally “non-negotiable” is our own primary production sector’s belief that what is good for New Zealand’s farmers must also be good for the country as a whole. Preserving the Kiwi way of life has thus become synonymous with preserving the economic well-being of the New Zealand farmer. Specifically, the New Zealand dairy farmer.

As anyone who watches television will attest, a colossal amount of money is currently being spent to convince New Zealanders that farming – especially dairy farming – is, in some mysterious way, integral to preserving the New Zealand way of life.

Dairy farmers are depicted as dedicated protectors of the land. Striding across their paddocks in the early light, breathing in the scent of their lush natural pastures, these quintessential Kiwis are presented as the uncomplicated stewards of modest family farms passed down from generation to generation over many decades.

That most dairy farms are now rigorously commercial ventures, owned by private companies or listed corporations, and monitored constantly by the banks to which they are so deeply indebted, are facts which the makers of these advertisements prefer to keep out of their stirring pastoral narratives. Also missing are any visual references to the complex irrigation machinery so essential to meeting their business’s ambitious milk production targets.

Nor, in the dawn’s early light, are we vouchsafed a glimpse of the depleted streams and polluted rivers that the doubling and tripling of dairy herd sizes has rendered inevitable. Indeed, the dairy farmers depicted in these ads appear to be throw-backs to the time when dairy farmers drove only 100 or 150 cows towards the milking shed – not the 400-600 cows found on today’s average dairy unit.

Such information would, of course, make it much harder to sell the notion that the farmers depicted in these ads are the ones who make it possible for New Zealanders living in cities to remain psychically linked to the clean, green countryside which underwrites their urban lifestyles. By the power of the ad-man’s dubious magic, these entirely fictional representatives of New Zealand agriculture have been enlisted to reinvigorate the nation’s foundation myth.

At the heart of that myth lies the “countryside good/cities bad” dichotomy. It is the dichotomy that fuels the sacred ideological fires of the National Party and which informs the ingrained assumptions that sets provincial New Zealanders against their metropolitan cousins. It also the dichotomy behind the suggestion of urban dereliction which constitutes the unspoken message of the latest batch of Fonterra ads.

The rural beneficence being celebrated here is Fonterra’s (and, by extension, the New Zealand dairy farmers’) donation of packaged milk to the nation’s school-children. By which, of course, is meant the nation’s “needy” schoolchildren. These little packages of rural generosity are intended for the unfortunate offspring of the indigent (and probably immoral) inhabitants of the wicked cities’ treeless suburbs.

Extolling the virtues of Fonterra’s milk-in-schools philanthropy is no less an icon of provincial virtue than the all-conquering All-Black hero, Ritchie McCaw. Seldom has one complex bundle of national myths been enlisted to the cause of another which such seamless effectiveness.

It is worth paying close attention to these ads the next time they appear on your television screen. As you take in the sophisticated messages embedded in the text and imagery, ask yourself why they are being broadcast now, with such relentless regularity, to their overwhelmingly urban audience.

Think about the success of Greenpeace’s “Dirty Dairying” campaign; about the shocking images of shit-filled streams, dried-up riverbeds and toxic lakes. Think about the dairy industry’s point-blank refusal to accept that it is more-or-less singlehandedly destroying New Zealand’s clean, green image. Recall its role in the destruction of regional democracy in Canterbury: its determination to overcome all opposition to its plans for vast, government-subsidised irrigation schemes. Think about the fact that nitrogen levels across the country are rapidly approaching danger levels – even in the deep, formerly pristine aquifers beneath our feet. Think of the way the Ministry of Primary Industry and the National Party stand guard over the dairy industry in exactly the same way as Dick Cheney and Scott Pruitt stood and stand guard over the US fossil fuels industry.

The dairy industry’s way of life is every bit as “non-negotiable” as the American people’s – and just as big a threat to our environment.

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  1. Grant says:

    There is now also a deep connection between the Chinese being allowed to set up water bottling plants at will for virtually no cost and the power the Chinese hold over the N.Z dairy industry and Fonterra.
    A perilous situation if ever their was one.
    And lets not forget that this completely unsustainable form of farming is also fuelled by the widespread use of palm kernel at the expense of raping the Orangutan’s habitat, thus accelerating their decline towards inevitable extinction.
    My father in law was a traditional Dairy Farmer who cared deeply about his 150 cows , their health and the lands health and loved every aspect of farming.
    A very practical, very sensible , very intelligent hard working man.
    Large year on year profits were not his modus operandi.
    Lifestyle and making a comfortable sustainable living was.
    He would be spinning in his grave if he could see what a parlous state the industry has become with farm workers now referred to as ‘working units’ and where the drive for endless ‘growth’ is everything at the expense of everything.
    Where do these morons Bill English and Nick Smith think this is all going to end up eh?
    Their lack of caring and imagination is breathtaking !!
    Oh, but hang on a minute . Bill English can shear a sheep. He must know what he’s doing…..

  2. Strypey says:

    So we know that most dairy farming pollutes waterways and relies on industrial irrigation that reduces their flow. Irrigation also wastes water. On a dry day, a good proportion of the water sprayed out of industrial irrigation evaporates before it even hits the ground.

    We also know that even the most human, organic, dairy farm has to kill animals in appalling numbers. For cows in a dairy herd to keep producing milk, they each get impregnated and have a calf each year. The vast majority of the male calves are no use to farmers so they are killed, along with about a quarter of the female calves.

    The real kicker is that dairy milk isn’t even healthy food for humans. Even in its most natural form, it’s a junk food, high in sugar (lactose = sugar), that causes or contributes to a wide range of chronic diseases. Despite what decades of dairy industry propaganda claiming that milk is a health food, numerous studies have shown no significant health benefits.

    It’s about time we had a serious discussion about replacing the entire dairy industry with plant crops that can produce much larger quantities of healthy human food, for the same amount of land, water, and energy. Doing this would reduce pressure to convert wild habitat to human farms, and even allow us to return some areas of marginal, high country grazing land to native bush. Since hills with bush on them allow greater infiltration of rainwater into the underlying watersheds and aquifers, by reducing evaporation and slowing run-off, this would also help restore the flow levels in our waterways and reduce flooding. It’s a win-win.

    • John W says:


      Cow’s milk is a leading cause of osteoporosis yet dairy lies that it builds health bones.

      They are actually supplying it free to some schools again.

      They lie and add more lies when challenged.

      But the banks ramping up the whole dairy / irrigation just shift massif profits off shore.

      Plant food for humans not cows in the only future if we are to have one.

      Permaculture is the best available option at present.

  3. XRAY says:

    Think about Havelock North and how dairy farming was subtly left out of the mix on any inquiry into its poisoned drinking water:

    And to find out its mayor was and is a National Party stooge and candidate hopeful only added shit to the water.

    I agree, they do not want a government change ever and if it has to be, then one they control!

  4. Afewknowthetruth says:

    Don’t forget that dairy farming, as now practiced, is totally unsustainable.

    Gone are the days of horse-drawn carts delivering hand-milked cows’ milk to local dairy factories, and the cheese being delivered to market by horse-drawn wagon.

    Now we have humungous diesel-powered trucks (dependent on imported fuel) charging across the countryside, ripping up roads and polluting the air we breathe, and eventually polluting the oceans we get much of our food from.

    Now we have centralized processing plants, dependent on burning natural gas (not as clean and green as the purveyors of propaganda declare) buggering up the geochemistry of the planet via emissions, whilst dairy factory products are transported around the world via the dysfunctional global transport system which is consuming non-renewable energy resources whilst wrecking the stability of the climate.

    And, of course, there is the fertilizer which is imported by the million tonne to keep the land ‘productive’ whist it elevates the cadmium levels of soils towards the ‘unsafe for human consumption’ level and wreaks havoc with the biochemistry of waterways.

    All this just so the international banks can keep charging interest on loans.

    If anyone can think of a more fucked-up system I’d like to hear about it.


  5. Doug says:

    The milk in schools is purely about getting kids hooked on milk… There’s nothing altruistic about it

    • Andrea says:

      Lots of kids will never be hooked on milk. They can’t stand the taste.

      And, if it isn’t ‘straight out the fridge’ – ooh, yuck!

      But those innocent shoppers raised on the myth of wheat biscuits and milk for a ‘nourishing breakfast or snack’ – they’re wide open for guilt trips and no-brainer pop it in the trolley responses. Not ‘all’ but a significant ‘enough’.

      And the desperate school system with hungry kids. Feed them now and deal with the health downsides later. Thank you thank you big biz for meeting our need and saving the tax payers from rarking up the government.

      Lots of others buy ‘yummy, sucky yoghurt full of healthy fruit, probiotics’, and sugar enough to please any juvenile taste buds. Easy-peasy follow the crowd… Gotcha.

      Chris is right: icon overload. Among other marketing tools. Meh.

    • John W says:


      • John W says:

        To Doug – a big health tick for a milk less child and adult diet. Human milk for human babies.

  6. Priss says:

    Isn’t Scott Pruitt now the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency?? Talk about the Fox “guarding” the henhouse!!

    Another nail in Trump’s undeserved rep for being “anti-establishment”. It was Trump who APPOINTED Pruitt to the role!

  7. Glenn says:

    The day is coming when the world won’t need cow milk. Perfectly suitable and far healthier milk is already being produced and due to be sold this year in the US.

    The milk is made with a process similar to craft brewing. Using yeast and age-old fermentation techniques, they make the very same milk proteins that cows make.

    Then they add a special mix of plant-based sugars, fats, and minerals to make a totally new kind of dairy milk without stabilizers, hormones, lactose, cholesterol or other nonsense.

    The future will also be lab grown meat so the world may not need cattle (or any other animals) for meat.
    It’s not just cow-free beef burgers on the future menu — several groups around the world are attempting to clone chicken breasts and fish fillets, as well.

    If this all comes to pass NZs economy and farming will certainly have to adapt quickly but to what and how? Technology is moving at an incredible rate and what we thought impossible only a couple of decades ago is now common place, cheap, and available for everyone.
    Perhaps we may even get clean unpolluted rivers back again.

    • Strypey says:

      Non-animal “meat” can already be made out of plants. Cloning the DNA of non-human animals to make protein for humans to eat is as gross and unnecessary as cloning humans to make protein for humans to eat. Like most use of genetic engineering it’s a solution in search of problem that already has simpler and less risky solutions.

    • John W says:

      Processed shit will never be as healthy as a Whole Food Plant Based diet with a wide variety of nutrients in balance.

  8. esoteric pineapples says:

    “inhabitants of the wicked cities’ treeless suburbs.”

    Ironically you will find more trees in towns than in the countryside

  9. […] of us. Not just the bloody farmers and their insane influence over politics, not just the foreign interests and […]

  10. Their is a fantastic add on export market for the Dairy Famers..

    Freeze dried cow shit and pee, cut into cubes the size of containers and exported all around the world to any country silly enough to purchase.

    Then those countries can also be clean and green, just like New Zealand.
    It will be so successful, milk will become a bye product of the Dairy Industry.

    Look out Fonterra, your days are numbered.

    • Just think about the marketing opportunities there for clean, green NZ.
      The containers arriving on foreign shores accompanied by images of pristine lakes, sparkling rivers and old daisy the cow.
      This new industry will have enormous growth potential.

      Even a photo of the Minister of Cow, Bullshit and Pee, Reckaless Smith on the side of every container.
      And one never to miss a photo opp, J Key would jump at the chance to be onboard.

  11. Andrew says:

    The dairy industry makes a valuable product, which judging by your latest effort, is more than you can manage Chris.

    • Grant says:

      Tell that to the Orangutans!

    • Geoff Lye says:

      A valuable product that’s polluting our waters.

      • Andrew says:

        Is it?

        By how much?

        Getting past the childish political rhetoric for a moment:

        There is a lack of accurate and consistent data on river water quality: The current NIWA database is totally inadequate.

        There is a lack of testing equipment, data loggers and trained water quality testers

        There is, as yet, nowhere near enough information to pin point sources of pollution and the frequency of testing. Urban runoff and inadequate waste water treatment are potentially as big a problem as cattle.

        • Sam Sam says:

          Yeah but Andrew. How else should the John Key and now National government make the government smaller and more effecient?

        • John W says:

          Andrew another day dream. Arguing detail without looking at the bigger picture. Reductionism.

  12. I do not believe the N.R.A. comparison works, not least because the gun rights the N.R.A. back are enshrined in constitutional law (i.e. the 2nd Amendment), whereas there is no such legal grounding for dairy.

    The N.R.A. also have backing of not only many Americans, but the military industrial complex as well.

    The dairy industry on the other hand has the support of people across New Zealand, but has no constitutional law protecting it. Nor does it have the fringe attitudes of many – i.e. totally in favour/totally opposed – since milk is something probably billions of people drink at some point each day whereas I sincerely doubt billions or even tens of millions fire a gun at something on a daily basis.

  13. Helena says:

    Time to nationalize….everything. Then let’s start again employing commonsense, fairness, equality and truth

    • Jono says:

      Yes thats called a revolution Halena and it will take one to shut down these greedy neo liberals that are driving these profit gouging industries…

    • Afewknowthetruth says:

      International bankers and corporations that now run the show would rather see NZ bombed into the stone age than allow nationalisation.