As a New Zealander born in Christchurch I take pride in my nations ‘clean green’ environment and the beautiful landscapes and rivers I have played in growing up. But the rivers which me and many like myself have grown up treasuring have become less and less safe to swim in. 61% of New Zealand’s waterways are no longer safe to swim in and 9 major waterways in Canterbury have a ‘very poor’ water quality (SAFE). Reports point towards the main abuser of these waterways being our farming industries, and especially the dairy industry. Dairy industries pollute waterways on a global scale, but in New Zealand, where we have an agricultural based economy, this issue is particularly evident. Dairy in New Zealand has had an increase in the last decade from 3.5 million dairy cows in New Zealand in 1990 to over 6.2 million today, fig 1 (statsNZ). In Canterbury there are 255,106 dairy cows (Livestock Improvement Corporation Limited and DairyNZ Limited) covering over 146000 hectares of land (Ivamy) and are 15% more concentrated in 2016 than 30 years ago (Christensen).
Dairy cow numbers have increased while other livestock numbers have decreased throughout New Zealand. Dairy farming is the most water and nutrient intensive of all livestock farming, it can take 2000 liters of water to produce 1 liter of milk and many dairy farmers intensively irrigate and fertilize their lands to produce the food necessary to feed their cattle, this often results in flushing the land of much of its phosphates and nitrates which drains directly into nearby waterways (Forest an Bird). In addition to this 18-24% of all dairy farms have been found to be in ‘serious non-compliance’ with their consent obligations to the environment in terms of not putting up proper fencing. This allows cows directly contaminate waterways with their nitrate rich effluent (Foote).
With the issue of ‘dirty dairy’ affecting the land I love right outside my doorstep, as a global citizen with access to all manner of information, I can actively use visual culture to create a new way to look at this issue and act as a change agent, of the dairy industry (Mirzoeff 297). There are not many visual activism projects in New Zealand that focus on ‘dirty dairy’ and most visual media surrounding the issue is in the form of photography, environmental reports. The bottom left photo below depicts a Green Party campaign that uses photography to highlight the issue of dirty rivers in NZ and the bottom right is a painting by Linda Mackey that create an emotional response to the melting Arctic ice caps. Both visual texts show the viewer the consequences of mistreating the environment, my visual activism project draws from this to create a painting with emotional resonance that makes people realize what cost has gone into the dairy they consume.
86% of New Zealanders identify as urban (Ivamy), I wanted to target this demographic over farmers in my work, as I want to focus on informing people who are unaware of the impact milk and dairy has on the environment and urban people are the most isolated from the rural farming issues. This painting focuses on the hidden impacts our consumption of milk can have on the environment. In New Zealand dairy farming is one of our biggest industries and the affect that it has on waterways throughout the country often goes unnoticed. The painting depicts someone drinking a glass of milk, unaware of the milk spilling into a river, killing the plants on the banks as it goes. The critical inquiry and research into my topic allowed me to focus my visual activism project on exactly what I wanted to say, who I wanted to communicate with and have a final product that fills a ‘gap in the market’ as this type of visual activism of ‘dirty dairy’ is uncommon.
“Agricultural Production Statistics: June 2011 (provisional).” Agricultural Production Statistics: June 2011 (provisional). StatsNZ, 16 Dec. 2011. Web. 17 May 2016.
Christensen, Christine Lynne. “DURATION-CONTROLLED GRAZING OF DAIRY COWS: IMPACTS ON PASTURE PRODUCTION AND LOSSES OF NUTRIENTS AND FAECAL MICROBES TO WATER.” 2013. Web. 6 June 2016.
Foote, Kyleisa Jade. “The cost of milk: Environmental deterioration vs. Profit in the New Zealand dairy industry.” 2014. E-Book. 6 June 2016.
Forest and Bird. “Save the MacKenzie Country.” Forest and Bird, n.d. Web. 8 May 2016.
Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to See the World. London: Pelican, 2015. Print.
SAFE. “Dirty Dairy.” SAFE for animals. n.d. Web. 6 June 2016.