Controversial Forest & Bird ad on freshwater degradation ruled responsible, truthful

A Forest & Bird advertisement about freshwater degradation, which received a number of complaints after being aired, has been found responsible and truthful by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The advertisement shows a Kiwi family visiting a river surrounding by bush as cows graze in paddocks empty of grass, some of which can be seen covered in mud. In a voiceover, a child urges the viewer to "tell the Government you want rivers you can swim in, fish in, and water you can drink without getting sick".

The authority ruled that the ad - which complainants allege "portrays farmers in a bad light" and "creates a misleading impression that cows up to their bellies in mud is the sole or main cause of poor water quality in New Zealand" - met the standards of truthful representation, and that the seven complaints it had received had no grounds to proceed, Forest & Bird said in a statement.

"The advertisement's primary message was about protecting New Zealand rivers from the pollution associated with dairy intensification," the ASA said. "The advertisement was not misleading or making environmental claims that could not be substantiated."

Forest & Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen said that "some people are still prepared to deny the reality that intensive farming has wrecked our rivers over the last few decades more than any other source of pollution".

"These complaints are about denial, not about solutions. Our TV ad shows the reality in this country. The agriculture industry needs to take responsibility for their role in the freshwater crisis," she said. "Increases in pollution like nitrates, phosphates, E. coli, and sediment are flowing into our streams and making them unswimmable for people and unlivable for fish and birds.

"The national rules on fresh water are not good enough to actually protect our precious waterways and this has to change urgently. Forest & Bird is demanding a better future for our water, where we can swim, fish, and drink safely.

"We need better rules to stop pollution and restore our rivers."