(NaturalNews) It is a country that admittedly invests millions of dollars each year into sustaining its "100 percent pure" image, which helps drive tourism and support the nation's multi-billion dollar export industry. But New Zealand may not actually be as clean and pristine as we were all led to believe, at least not as far as the overall integrity of its food supply and environment is concerned.
A new investigative report published by Reuters has found that, contrary to all the hype, many aspects of New Zealand's various food production systems leave much to be desired in the realm of environmental protection. A concerning number of New Zealand's rivers and streams, for instance, are now too polluted to be swam in safely, a direct result of lax environmental standards for food production.
Dairy farming in particular, which represents a significant portion of New Zealand's export market, is said to be one of the primary causes of environmental pollution throughout the country. Even though virtually all cattle in New Zealand are still raised on pasture -- New Zealand is known across the globe for its superior grass-fed milk and butter -- fertilizer and effluent runoff from larger, factory-style dairy operations are causing major problems.
"Because we've had a lack of regulation on farm waste for 20 years it's been a free for all," says Mike Joy, an ecology and environmental sustainability scientist at Massey University, as quoted by Reuters. "So farmers have done what they can to produce more milk, which is to put more cows on pastures."
Some New Zealand dairy products have tested positive for harmful bacteria
Adding insult to injury, New Zealand's largest dairy exporter, Fonterra, which currently maintains a state-backed monopoly on milk production, was recently indicted for selling bacteria-tainted milk products to at least eight countries. Late last year, the same company identified the presence of dicyandiamide, an agricultural chemical, in some of its products as well, prompting an investigation.
New Zealand also happens to have some of the highest rates of other food borne illnesses such as campylobacteriosis, which is caused by a bacterium that is usually only found on uncooked factory chicken meat. Despite having some of the most rigorous protocols for food safety testing in the world, New Zealand continues to have contamination troubles that threaten to undermine its major industries if left unaddressed.
"The right answer is not for New Zealand to sell less dairy," says Prime Minister John Key, who is admittedly skeptical of the "100 percent pure" claim for New Zealand food products. "The right answer is for New Zealand to be absolutely sure that the safety standards are met."
There is no doubt that a large percentage of the food products originating in New Zealand are still safe. And many of them are likely still superior to what is available in other countries, especially those that have been ravished by the industrial revolution. Still, there is considerable work that needs to be done to ensure that New Zealand products truly are "100 percent pure," an iconic slogan that many hope will also represent reality.
"We've got to wake up and look more closely at our green credentials, and work harder to create a pristine environment so consumers can get a product which matches the story," an Asia-based consultant to New Zealand is quoted as saying to Reuters about the issue. "We can't be complacent."