Last year I was lucky enough to see Sally Burton's magnificent exhibition, "White Gold: The Business of Milk" at Nelson's Suter Gallery, where she pays homage to the M.P.U.’s (Milk Production Units) commonly known as cows - or as she calls them, the "working women of our most important industry". You can read about it and see images from it here and here.
I thought about Sally's cows yesterday when I heard that the government has called in current resource consent applications concerning proposals to keep 18,000 cows inside, in cubicles, for eight months of the year, and 12 hours a day for the other four months, in the Mackenzie Basin. There has been a huge surge of opposition to these proposals (see, for example, my last Letter from Elsewhere and other items on Scoop). As well as the massive environmental impact, this method involves treating cows as nothing but MPUs - merely milk-producing machines. It doesn't matter how we deal with them, as long as they stay healthy enough to keep on producing.
But cows kept inside in cubicles is not, of course, the image that our dairy industry has wanted the world to see. So if such proposals - and there are bound to be more - are allowed to proceed, they are likely to have a huge impact on the New Zealand "brand".
As this whole affair has proceeded, it's become clear that each aspect of such proposals is dealt with quite separately - and some aren't dealt with at all. This enables the big companies behind these schemes to amass all the consents they need, piece by piece, without the total impact and the wider implications ever being examined.
This time, though, the outcry has been too great to ignore, and Nick Smith has done the right thing. Now let's hope the commissioners get it right too, and stop these proposals going any further.