Friday, April 19, 2024

Blaming the wrong flock for Queenstown

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Alan Emerson is irritated by reporting that tries to pin the tourist town’s crypto outbreak on sheep.
Queenstown has been in the news for months, highlighting the problem of people living in cars – and the environmental implications of that, Alan Emerson says.
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I was irritated beyond belief to see a headline telling me that farm animals had caused the crypto outbreak in Queenstown. It was featured, complete with a photo of an earnest-looking, fresh-faced youngster, on the TVNZ Breakfast show and kept current for whatever reason by Stuff.

It appears that an academic from Otago University had flown the kite that animals were responsible for the disaster. It was lambing time, he told us, and that meant pollution in the form of crypto.

What a load of absolute and complete rubbish, exacerbated by the fact that no one questioned the statement. It was just accepted as fact.

Mind you, we should be used to taking the blame for all ills.

I can remember when Havelock North’s water caused both illness and death – and the media told us factory farming in the form of dairy was to blame. The problem was that no one bothered to check if there was any factory farming in the area. There wasn’t.

The reason for the Havelock outbreak, as finally declared, was slack local government. Its water infrastructure just wasn’t fit for purpose. Not that it stopped the rabid rumblings of the likes of Greenpeace, who were committed to blaming farmers.

Now we’re taking the blame for the Queenstown water pollution, which is neither factual nor remotely credible.

For a start, as anyone who has been to Queenstown knows, the place is surrounded by mountains. This time of year they’re covered in snow. Someone should tell academics that sheep aren’t lambed on snowy mountains. That’s followed by the unassailable fact that lambing hasn’t started in that part of the world yet. It is far too cold. 

The reason for the epidemic, as with Havelock North, is bad local government infrastructure. Nothing more, nothing less. 

The entire episode resembles a circus more than anything remotely credible.

For a start, crypto (cryptosporidiosis) is transmitted “by the stool of infected people or animals”. A large part of the problem is people not washing their hands after going to the toilet. That’s not a problem sheep have, certainly at lambing.

It can also be passed through food, “tripe, salad, raw milk, offal, sausage or apple cider”.

Queenstown has been in the news for months, highlighting the problem of people living in cars. There’s not enough accommodation at the right price for workers to live in a civilized manner.

If people are living in cars they’re likely to be polluting at whim. The average car doesn’t have either a toilet or washbasin.

Didn’t anyone in the media scrum figure that itinerant workers living in cars could have been the cause of the crypto outbreak?

It was inevitably easier to blame sheep.

We were then told that the government water agency, Taumata Arowai, had claimed that “taking drinking water from Lake Wakatipu can reasonably be expected to result in the presence of pathogenic protozoa – for instance from effluent overflows from Queenstown’s urban wastewater network”.

You can’t blame sheep for that!

We were further informed that the lack of a protozoa barrier at Queenstown’s water treatment plant created a serious risk to public health. The reason a barrier wasn’t installed was because of the cost.

Consider that. New Zealand’s premier tourist destination can’t provide safe drinking water because effective filters were considered too expensive.

They’d have to be joking. 

It all provides an extra strong case to support the government’s water reform initiatives, which the Queenstown Council rejected.

The problem is the massive ignorance of things rural by our mainstream media. That’s combined with a degree of inherent laziness that would make a bureaucrat blush.

What needs to happen from here is that our sector puts in place a rural education tool for the media so they at least have some knowledge of what’s going on in the provinces.

Similar initiatives have been successful in the past. In 1992 the NZ Army sent a peacekeeping force to Bosnia. Its research showed massive ignorance on the part of the media of all things military.

The army produced a simple ABC explanation of what an army is and does, including what a soldier wears and their weapons and training. It was presented in easily readable, simple English.

It worked. The media coverage of the Bosnian deployment was extensive, accurate and supportive.

We need a similar approach to farming and rural issues now as it is blatantly obvious that the mainstream media just don’t have a clue about things rural or who to contact to find out. It could be a joint venture between Feds, Beef + Lamb NZ and DairyNZ.

Now there’s a thought.

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