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100% Pure Lies

You might expect a “rant” by a Chinese state-run news agency to be full of propaganda and ideology-induced fantasies. But then again, maybe not. It seems to me that a recent piece which describes New Zealand’s “100 percent pure” tourism campaign as a “festering sore” is much too close to the truth for many of us.

And saying free market ideology resulted in Kiwi homes becoming damp, leaky and uninhabitable is also an interesting assertion. I’m not sure if I fully agree with that exact point but I do believe that the majority of the social problems we are currently experiencing can be blamed on an over-confident belief in laissez-faire economics.

Many people now understand that the “clean green” image of New Zealand is largely fake. Poor environmental standards, primarily because of the neo-liberal revolution in 1984, have resulted in a lot of the country being polluted. And dairying – our so-called great success story – is by far the worst contributor to this (as well as being our worst producer of greenhouse gas).

The latest food quality debacle is just one of several New Zealand dairying has been involved with over the last five years. In some ways Fonterra has been rather unlucky to have had a contamination scare of this exact type happen, because botulism would not normally be expected in this type of product and it is difficult to detect. But in other ways it was only a matter of time because of the culture of the company.

It is rather ironic that in an economic era where most of our leaders believe that competition will solve most of the world’s problems that a virtual monopoly has been set up to deal with our biggest export product. Not only does this mean that Fonterra has far too much power in the dairy industry but also that when things go wrong it affects everyone. If the polluted milk product had come from just one small company amongst many the effect on the country as a whole would surely have been much less.

I think it’s clear that Fonterra is just like almost all the other big companies we have. They are bureaucratic, greedy, arrogant, and narrow minded. The corporate headquarters in Auckland employs 1000 people who spend their lives attending meetings with each other. This is never going to produce a good result. Not only is hundreds of millions wasted on paying these useless parasites but they also no doubt by now have delusions of adequacy and are actually trying to make decisions. No wonder we have so many problems!

So Fonterra has got itself into the same position as some banks have now: it’s too big to fail. No matter how much incompetence and corruption appears there we are stuck with it and we won’t be able to escape the trap without a lot of difficulty.

So I think the idea of setting up Fonterra, which was done by the previous Labour government (a party which was theoretically more left wing but at the time was almost as dedicated to the new economic agenda as its opposition) was a bad one. Having one large company to handle dairy seems great when things are going well but when things go wrong it’s not pretty!

Now to get back to the Chinese news article. I want to quote a few passages from it and comment on them. Remember that these quotes are likely to represent an increasingly prevalent opinion of New Zealand overseas.

The writer asks “Where is the quality control?” and claims the the food safety problems are not “mere details” and are beginning to look systemic.

Well yes, where is the quality control? It was only an Australian lab doing a more thorough analysis than what was done here which discovered the contamination at all. Then Fonterra took a year to do anything about it. And didn’t tell the government about the possible problem (at that time the contamination wasn’t certain), or potential investors either.

Here’s the one quote which I think is very astute: “One could argue the country is hostage to a blinkered devotion to laissez-faire market ideology…”

Exactly. Of course you could say that compared with China most countries have a very laissez-faire economy, and I’m not saying we want state control as strong as China’s, but there is no doubt in my opinion that we do rely on the “magic of the free market” far too much.

When our Prime Minister commented on our tourism marketing campaign he compared it to selling burgers, saying “It’s like saying ‘McDonald’s, I’m loving it’. I’m not sure every moment that someone’s eating McDonald’s they’re loving it. It’s the same thing with 100% Pure. It’s got to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.”

The Chinese writer comments: “No, Mr Key, it needs to be fixed before your trading partners just stop loving it.”

No one should take advertising campaigns seriously and there would be a case to say that anyone who really thinks New Zealand’s environment is a pristine as the advertising suggests is just being naive. Well sure, but people like the PM shouldn’t expect us to support a campaign which is essentially dishonest. And if people portray the reality of the situation (as some have) don’t describe them as sabotaging our tourism efforts. If the PM wants support for a campaign try making it honest. Or better still: let’s really make New Zealand clean and green.

A good start would be to make the dairy farmers clean up the mess they are making. Maybe those hundreds of millions being spent at Fonterra corporate HQ would be better spent on an environmental clean up instead!

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