A tale of two standards

First we have a farmer:

A Southland farmer has been sentenced to community work for discharging dairy farm effluent to land.

Damon Shane Buckingham appeared before Judge Craig Thompson in the Environment Court in Invercargill yesterday after admitting discharging the effluent to land in circumstances where it may have entered a waterway.

He was sentenced to 40 hours of community work. . .

Then we have this:

. . . Invercargill City Council environmental health services manager John Youngson said a high level of sewerage-system failure had resulted in surface and ground water being contaminated with human faeces and pollution in the nearby Waihopai River.

Sanitary survey dye tests revealed effluent on 20 properties, direct discharge from septic tanks into waterways on 15 properties and indirect discharge into waterways from 16 properties via soakholes or filed tiles. . .

Why do we have one standard for animal effluent discharges and another for those from people?

It seems especially unfair when the farmer was charged for animal effluent which could reach a waterway and no-one was charged for human effluent which did reach a river.

17 Responses to A tale of two standards

  1. One was on purpose, the other was not.

    This is a pretty standard distinction in New Zealand criminal law.

  2. homepaddock says:

    It wasn’t clear from the story that it was on purpose.

  3. Gravedodger says:

    Whatever happened to “ignorance being no defence”?

    I have a bit of money to wager that many in the bureaucracy knew full well that the raw sewerage could escape to waterways in the Invercargill system as many LA schemes have that as a default action when system overload occurs. It was probably in the design in the Invercargill system.

    Cripes when we lived in The Wairarapa, there was a Manhole in the Borough system at the lowest part of Lansdowne on Te Ore Ore Rd that “blew” in many rain events and raw sewerage flowed into the Ruamahunga River 700 meters away.
    It may well still be the case.

    I would also suspect there are many instances where a rural business must place bunds and other backup schemes that may never be employed.

    Given a choice I would have a heap less distrust of Animal generated effluent than what can flow from a human sewerage spill.
    The former might cause disgust and minor exposure to illness whereas the latter is almost certain to threaten serious illness if not fatal.

    HP makes a valid point Graeme, accepting your legal ruling of course.

  4. TraceyS says:

    Graeme Edgeler at 12:08 pm: Which raises the question of whether an incident can be said to be “on purpose” if the local authority is aware that the infrastructure is inadequate, deteriorating, failing, or is likely to fail in the near future. Farmers are often prosecuted when effluent systems malfunction because they are supposed to be monitoring things, fixing equipment failures, and anticipating future problems. Does the same onus not lie on the local authority?

    I agree with your frustration Ele. Similar double-standards exist between treatment of environmental “near misses” and personal safety “near misses”. A farmer can be prosecuted for the possibility of contaminants entering water. But how many times do we see prosecutions for the possibility of a workplace injury that never eventuated? This is unbalanced. The immediate protection of life should be above all else.

  5. Mr E says:

    I think this is embarrassing for the Council. I think this is embarrassing for the Kennington Residents. I think this is embarrassing for the Media. If they are not embarrassed they should be, in my opinion.

    According to the 2 articles:
    The ‘potential’ water quality polluter is prosecuted
    The ‘actual’ water quality polluters are asked to fixed the things. And go onto complain about the costs. The article author puts significant weight on the cost issue.

    Why do these double standards exist? There are derogatory terms used by the media for polluting dairy behaviours. Yet the media treats the ‘town folk’ so gently. Why is this so?

    It is embarrassing to read both in succession. The pollution really bothers me. Being a proud Southlander, the unfair treatment also bothers me. I think it is intrinsic in many Southlanders, to want fair treatment for all.

  6. TraceyS says:

    Why do these double standards exist?

    Because the council is above reproach. Or used to be. Things take a long time to change. The bigger the player the longer the transformation.

  7. Mr E says:

    Do you think dairy farmers have done a good job of defending their position?

  8. TraceyS says:

    That sounds like a question for which you already have an answer. So I will wait to hear what it is, but add that when faced with an environmental mishap, there is a pragmatic tendency to fall back on insurance (where possible) rather than to engage in a protracted fight against a prosecution. Risk averse operators will realise that the claim on their insurance policy will be smaller and more straightforward if they roll with it rather than fight on.

    A lot of operators will have insurance cover for RMA fines. Prosecution is necessary for a claim as I understand it. Maybe that is why there are prosecutions which go unchallenged? In any business risk/cost must be weighed up. It is hard to justify fighting things mainly on moralistic grounds.

  9. Mr E says:

    Nope it is genuine. I have an opinion, but I’m genuinely interested in yours.

    I am referring to how dairy farmers are presented by the media, by council propaganda and how they exist in the publics eye?
    Are they good at standing up for themselves? Given that the law prosecutes potential polluting dairy farmers, an media promotes sympathy to polluting public.

  10. TraceyS says:

    My opinion would be no, by the standard set here:


    That is defending a position!

  11. TraceyS says:

    It’s not “their own” legislation Mr E. It’s ours.

  12. Mr E says:

    I wish you were right.
    Our Council has invoked the right to activate interim rules. Short cutting the RMA and consultation legislation. One such rule has been running for – coming up to 2 years now.

    Interim rules appear to me, to be a cruel way to test the affects of rules.

  13. Mr E says:

    I think this adds to the double standards assertion.
    This is the latest MFE river quality report said this

    “Rivers and streams in or downstream of urban areas tend to have the highest concentrations of nutrients and bacteria, and lowest macroinvertebrate health, but water quality at these sites is generally improving.”

    There was no mention of farming practices that I could see.

    My reaction to the above statement is – well down urbanites on improving things. But you are still the worst and expectations from you need to lift.

  14. robertguyton says:

    “Rivers and streams in or downstream of urban areas tend to have the highest concentrations of nutrients and bacteria…”

    Urban areas tend to be lower down the catchment than farms. In other words, they cop the lot.

    Another thought: Farmers retire to urban areas.

    Another thought: Yes, urban areas need to do a LOT better.

    Another thought: The speed of intensification in the rural areas is a rising threat to water quality. The threat from urban areas is not escalating in the same way. At all.

  15. Mr E says:

    Yet nutrients are improving in rivers.
    Are you saying intensification=good?

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