Let’s put the pure back in New Zealand

New Zealand owl

Imagine British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been invited to give a speech at a university conference on sustainability. Imagine her topic was the discrepancy between the clean, green image created by the ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign and the environmental reality. Imagine she wanted to inform the audience of this discrepancy; to persuade them it is economically damaging as well as morally unacceptable; and to motivate them to take action. As a scientist and politician, she knew the importance of commerce, government and environmental groups working together, and as an effective public speaker, she knew the power of words. Imagine this was her speech.

Good morning lecturers, students and parents. It’s with great pleasure that I’ve taken time from my schedule of bungee jumping and white water rafting to speak to you at this Student Conference on Sustainability. Many of you here today weren’t even born when I was Prime Minister of Great Britain, but I’m rather hoping that you will have heard of me.

You may not have heard that I was a scientist before I was ever a politician, so the environment is close to my heart. When I addressed the United Nations in 1989, I warned that climate change was a global issue that all nations must confront.

Today, with sustainability on the lips of economists and environmentalists alike, I will discuss the discrepancy between the airbrushed ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign and the environmental reality.

In 1999, the New Zealand Tourist Board launched ‘100% Pure New Zealand’, since hailed as a highly successful global marketing campaign. Responding to the question “Who in the world cares about New Zealand?”, the Tourist Board promotes a desirable experience that reflects the country’s purity.[i] But is this simply empty rhetoric?

For those living in New Zealand, the campaign images of pristine scenery and prolific wildlife don’t stack up against images far from pure: freshwater fish floating in polluted rivers; Northland Kiwis slain by dogs on the loose[ii]; forty Yellow-eyed penguins found dead[iii]; Hectors dolphins suffocated by set nets[iv]; albatross chicks starved to death, their stomachs clogged with plastics washed up on beaches[v]; the development threatening the last nesting site of the NZ Fairy Tern, on the brink of extinction[vi]; the rail tunnel that would cut through wilderness rushing tourists in and out of iconic Milford Sound[vii] and dairy industry crises of contamination and cruelty.

The world is waking up to reality; species decline, habitat loss and food scares are out of kilter with the ‘Pure’ campaign. The question we should be asking is “Who in New Zealand cares about New Zealand?”

Environmental experts say New Zealand can’t fool the world when biodiversity, beaches and rivers are in a declining state.[viii] Indeed, river quality is significantly degraded by dairy farm effluent and fertiliser runoff with no controls in place.[ix]

As science links antibiotic resistance in humans to antibiotic use in farm animals, there’s a global need to clamp down on overuse in agriculture, as well as medicine.[x] Turning a blind eye could see an apocalyptic scenario where surgical patients die from minor infections[xi] as resistance grows faster than we create new antibiotics.

With intensive farming methods the norm, how clean and green are dairy, poultry and pig farms? Yet we know good hygiene, husbandry and housing eliminate the need for routine use of antibiotics in animal feed. In a global marketplace, we face a new environmental and health challenge that rivals climate change, yet commercial interests continue to control policy.

I disagree with The Right Honourable Mr Key that the ‘100% Pure’ campaign should be taken with a pinch of salt. This smacks of ‘fast food’ mentality, style over substance. But with annual dairy exports worth over $13.6 billion dollars and eco-tourism vital to the New Zealand economy – I’m told a breeding pair of yellow-eyed penguins could be worth $60,000 to Dunedin[xii] – the campaign must be taken with a large dose of responsibility.

How much of the wealth generated by this campaign is re-invested in conservation? And how much consideration is given to environmental concerns when they conflict with economic interests? A healthy environment benefits a nation’s economy, but let’s not forget that a nation’s economy must support that healthy environment.

It’s time not just to showcase New Zealand but time to show New Zealand’s purity inside out. Time to show it’s not just pure marketing genius but the pure in unspoilt and in truth. Change is needed in national attitude, change to shake off the shackles of ignorance, of complacency. You have this marvellous, marvellous country and the opportunity to do things your way.

With your contained geographical location and your manageable population, you can be an example to other countries – and what an example you could be. This university community with your intellect and your conviction is ideally placed to lead that change.

As well as leaders in business, let’s be guardians of our landscape, custodians of our wildlife. Let’s protect the planet for generations. Let’s put the pure back in New Zealand. 


[i] Tourism New Zealand. (2009). Pure As. Celebrating 10 years of 100% Pure New Zealand. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.tourismnewzealand.com/media/106877/10%20year%20anniversary%20of%20100%20%20pure%20new%20zealand%20campaign%20-%20pure%20as%20magazine.pdf

[ii] Donnell, Haydn. (2012, February). Dogs blamed for mass kiwi deaths. August 30, 2013, from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10785657

[iii] Daly, Michael. (2013, February). Unknown cause for mass penguin deaths. Retrieved August 30, 2013, from http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/8292911/Unknown-cause-for-mass-penguin-deaths

[iv] Forest and Bird. (n.d.). Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/saveourdolphins

[v] Schiller, Jakob. (2012, August). Plastic-Filled Albatrosses Are Pollution Canaries in New Doc. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.wired.com/rawfile/2012/08/albatross-midway-chris-jordan/

[vi] Te Arai Beach Preservation Society. (n.d.). What is this all about? Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.tearai.org/proposed.htm

[vii] University of Canterbury. (2013, July). Monorail proposal conflicts with NZ tourism brand. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK1307/S00540/monorail-proposal-conflicts-with-nz-tourism-brand.htm

[viii] APNZ. (2013, August). Advertising watchdog defends 100% pure catchphrase. Retrieved August 30, 2013, from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11115218

[ix] Field, Michael. (2013, August). New Zealand’s 100% Pure campaign rubbished by UK press. Retrieved August 30, 2013, from http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/9023731/NZs-100-Pure-claim-rubbished-by-UK-press

[x] World Poultry. (2013, June). Antibiotic use to take priority at G8 summit. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.worldpoultry.net/Broilers/Health/2013/6/Antibiotic-use-to-take-priority-at-G8-summit-1282634W/

[xi] Mc Carthy, Michael. (2013, March). Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies: resistance to Antibiotics risks health ‘catastrophe’ to rank with terrorism and climate change. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/chief-medical-officer-dame-sally-davies-resistance-to-antibiotics-risks-health-catastrophe-to-rank-with-terrorism-and-climate-change-8528442.html

[xii] Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust. (n.d.). Value to the economy. Retrieved August 30, 2013, from http://www.yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/penguins/value-to-the-economy

Image credit: New Zealand native owl (morepork or ruru) by David Brighten