19 May 2015

Changes to waste farm livestock rules

2:22 pm on 19 May 2015

A new "locked-gate" policy will soon be coming into force on Taranaki's controversial oil industry waste farms, to ensure livestock are not grazed on the land until it is safe.

A year ago, the Government was urged to intervene on the dozen or so farms where petrochemical waste, including fracking waste from the region's oil industry, was being spread on paddocks before they were resown into pasture.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, said the farms were a threat to New Zealand's reputation as a safe producer of food.

On numerous occasions, Taranaki Regional Council monitoring reports have recorded livestock in paddocks that had only recently had oil industry waste discharged on them.

A senior planning advisor with the New Plymouth District Council, Ralph Broad, said landfarms, and other areas where oil industry waste is simply buried on farms, will now be monitored by district councils who will enforce existing rules around contaminated soil.

"But what it does mean is that they can't actually let loose stock on the land or grow other product on the land until that clearance is given," he said.

"The understanding as to what should and should not take place on a landfarm perhaps hasn't been as rigidly controlled, so is somewhat in the hands of the landowner up until now, but we've realised we've had these statutory obligations, and we have to manage our way through these.

"So what in fact it will mean is there will be a locked gate policy on the landfarm until it's remediated."

Mr Broad said he understood the Government working group investigating landfarms and mixed-bury cover sites was looking into acceptable levels of hydrocarbons and other contaminants in relation to food production.

The Ministry for Primary Industries could not immediately confirm that.

Landfarming opponents welcome new 'locked gate' policy

Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes said it was good news that district councils would be stepping up and would introduce a locked gate policy.

He said photographs of cattle hoof-deep in oil industry waste in Taranaki were a bad look for New Zealand agriculture.

But Mr Hughes said the pending new rules should have been in place years ago.

"Well it is back to front, this should have been settled and regulated more stringently years and years ago.

"We've only belatedly seen a testing regime from the Government (of milk from landfarms) ... and in fact it seriously looks like they're still dragging their heels when it comes to (taking) almost a year for this landfarming and mix-bury cover working group to finally report back."

The Ministry for Primary Industries has not yet answered any questions about the new landfarming regime.

Catherine Cheung, a researcher for Climate Justice Taranaki which has long raised its concerns about landfarming, said the new locked gate policy vindicated its activism.

But she believes the new monitoring system might make farmers think twice about having oil and gas waste on their land.

"The contaminants don't just go away, it could take years and years before the contaminants go away and before the land is suitable and deemed safe for production. If they can't produce food then they're losing income, so I think they should really think carefully now, especially with the district council's decisions, but it certainly helps consumers, it will give them better assurance that the produce they do get from these farms are safe.

"We're hoping for some stringent and high quality testing and monitoring on these farms."

And Fonterra has issued a statement on its twitter account this morning saying it has no plans of changing its stance on not collecting milk from any new landfarms.

Fonterra does collect milk from six existing landfarms, and one of its board directors, David MacLeod, is also the chairman of the Taranaki Regional Council which issues the consents for landfarming to take place.

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