Anti-farming lobby Greenpeace has been ordered to take down billboards it had erected around the country accusing fertiliser companies Ballance and Ravensdown of polluting rivers.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled against a series of Greenpeace billboards reading: “Ravensdown and Ballance Pollute Rivers - #TooManyCows”
In its decision, the ASA says: “targeting individual companies is provocative and taking advocacy a step further than is necessary”.
The Amsterdam-headquartered, international environmental lobby group erected the offending billboards on main routes NZ-wide late last year in what it said was “the first tactic” in a campaign to ban ‘synthetic nitrogen fertiliser’.
Acting on three separate complaints that the billboards made a false claim, a majority of the ASA complaints board ruled that the billboards were misleading. The ruling says the billboard’s message was “over-simplified and potentially unclear”.
In its deliberation the ASA compared the Greenpeace campaign to a newspaper advertising campaign run by anti-fluoride group Fluoride Free NZ, in which it said: “Fluoride is a neurotoxin that reduces children’s IQ”.
Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop claims the ASA decision could have a “chilling effect” on environmental and social advocacy.
“It is very disturbing that the ASA has taken a position that companies which pollute the environment are above criticism. Free speech is a vital part of our democratic society.”
However, Federated Farmers says it pleased with the ASA ruling labelling the Greenpeace billboards misleading.
“Federated Farmers believes everyone has the right to express strong views, but as the ASA complaints board ruling underlines, over-simplification of issues and targeting of two farmer-owned companies is misleading and overly provocative,” Feds environment spokesman Chris Allen says.
“[Most] farmers are working hard and investing significantly to limit run-off, improve water quality and protect biodiversity.”
Allen says it is not helpful when lobby groups ignore the substantial progress already achieved by farms in the environment and vilifies just one section of NZ society.
“I’d like to see Greenpeace work with Federated Farmers and encourage the continued uptake of good farm management practices across the nation.”
In a cheeky jibe, Allen suggested that Feds could – in a spirit of co-operation – organise farmers to help Greenpeace take down the offending billboards.
Meanwhile, a Ravensdown spokesman told Rural News that the important matter of fertiliser impacts on waterways can’t be summed up in a billboard.
“Bans are not the answer. Responsible use and better nutrient management are the answer,” he said. “At Ravensdown, we call this smarter farming; our helping the food creators of New Zealand with that is the reason we exist.”
A Ballance spokesman told Rural News that no one wants to see nutrient losses into waterways.
“We’re proud of our role in working with New Zealand farmers and growers – providing nutrients, tools and know-how to ensure they’re using ‘just enough and no more’ so that we can all make the most from our land.”
The spokesman added that the company has a meeting planned with Greenpeace later this month to talk about these opportunities.