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Agricultural leaders calling for environmental rules to be ditched in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic are not only putting environmental health at risk, but public health too, says Forest & Bird.

On the eve of a new Ministry for the Environment report on the state of the country's rivers and lakes, Forest & Bird has hit back at Federated Farmers' and others' call to abandon freshwater and biodiversity protections, saying it has never been clearer why New Zealand needs strong rules to protect environmental and public health.

“Our economy, our health, and our way of life depends on a healthy environment. One of the things these environmental regulations are designed to protect us from is the very threat we are facing now - widespread disease passed from animals to humans,” says Tom Kay, Forest & Bird Freshwater Advocate.

“The National Policy Statements on Freshwater and Biodiversity, and the accompanying National Environmental Standards and stock exclusion regulations, will protect the health of our native plants and animals, and the health of New Zealanders and our communities.

“Zoonotic diseases which pass from animals to humans are not new to New Zealand. We were lucky to avoid mad cow disease, Ebola, MERS, SARS, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. But we have more common zoonotic diseases that thousands of New Zealanders contract every year—Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, and Salmonella. We are still trying to eradicate Bovine Tuberculosis, which we have been fighting as a nation for over a century,” says Mr Kay.

As well as zoonotic diseases, Forest & Bird has warned that agricultural nitrates put people at greater risk of illnesses such as colon cancer, rectal cancer, thyroid disease, blue baby syndrome, and neural tube defects in utero.

“The potential human and economic toll of widespread zoonotic outbreaks was foreshadowed during the largest outbreak of Campylobacter on record only four years ago in Havelock-North.

“The proposed National Policy Statement and National Environmental Standards for Freshwater aim to protect our environment and our health from the potentially catastrophic impacts of unchecked agricultural in New Zealand. They are a vital tool in protecting us and our loved ones from the effects of zoonotic disease, the full potential of which is now devastatingly clear.

“New Zealand has an opportunity to progress good environmental standards and to invest in helping councils and other agencies implement them. Forest & Bird urge our decision-makers to support solutions that protect human and environmental health and all sectors of our economy, rather than cherry-picking a few winners at the expense of everyone else,” say Mr Kay.

Forest & Bird has been in talks with Councils and central government on their plan 'Recovery for People and Planet' detailing suggestions for investment as part of an economic stimulus that will enable New Zealand to emerge from this crisis more resilient and with an improved environment.

Forest & Bird believes the agricultural industry has a key role to play in leading New Zealand out of this crisis, and in that lies an opportunity to lead the world in sustainable agriculture. But it must be sustainable in all regards—for human health, for our environment, and for our economy.

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