William Rolleston sees the advent of argument dressed up as science but which abandons the principles of evidence, balance and context in order to persuade

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Our free trade prospects have been a victim of Brexit and the US Presidential election. New Zealand must be careful not to be caught in the crossfire of any ensuing trade war, Dr William Rolleston says.

Rolleston, the President of Federated Farmers, told its National Council in Wellington today that there were opportunities in disruption but our officials would need to play their cards with skill and tact.

"If there is any area of government which needs investment priority right now, it is our trade division," he said.

An outcome of the post truth politics of the UK and USA of late has been a check on the liberal journey the western world has been on and "a reactive slide into isolationism, protectionism, anti-globalisation and the ugly side of nationalism".

While a Trans Pacific Partnership which includes the USA has gone for the meantime "I would not write off its long term prospects," Rolleston said.

"The TPP took more than ten years to negotiate. A presidential term is four.

"New Zealand needs to hold the line in our trade with the USA and make small gains where we can but any trade deal, in my view, can wait. ‘America first’ is not a good pretext for a balanced outcome."

In an era of post truth politics, at least one White House spokesperson considered it appropriate to cite ‘alternative facts’.

"For us in the primary industries where evidence and science is so critical, these tactics are not new. I have termed it Post Factual Science," Rolleston said.

It threatens to send us backwards technologically or at least slow our progress. Farmers will be impacted.

"Post Factual Science is argument dressed up as science but which abandons the principles of evidence, balance and context in order to persuade," he said.

"We have seen Post Factual Science frustrate us in the debates on immunisation, fluoride and 1080."

New Zealand needed to be on guard it did not creep into debates about agricultural practices.

It made institutions such as the Fertilizer Council very important and was why investment in scientific research, which uses the scientific method to sort out fact from fiction, causation from correlation, was critical.

"Our decision makers need to resist Post Factual Science and pandering to fear. Our local councils appear to be particularly vulnerable in this space. The problem for us is that once rules are notified in Regional and District plans the burden of proof to have them removed can become insurmountable. We have seen this in the rules imposed by several councils on genetic modification and the use of glyphosate.

"And it is simply not acceptable for regional councils to notify plans that include fencing rules for hill country farmers which are patently impractical and detrimental for the environment as well as the economy."

Councils needed to realise they have to work with farmers if they are to effect change. They must sort out fact from fiction early on and set out with rules which are practical, doable and evidence-based, Rolleston said.


William Rolleston is the President of Federated Farmers. The full version of this speech is here.

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15 Comments

Rolleston's blatently obvious campaign of denial and minimisation of the impact farming has had on our environment is sickening.
His flouride and immunisation distraction is laughable.

Rolleston - get back to the issue that you are desperate to avoid - the issue of farming operations polluting our waterways and poisoning our drinking water with nitrates.

Post Factual Science is argument dressed up as science but which abandons the principles of evidence, balance and context in order to persuade," he said.

Exactly.

Economists have always fashioned themselves in the style of physicists. They endlessly scrawl incomprehensible equations on blackboards because it is the epitome of science, the allure of great intelligence seemingly to do great things. But where physicists have continued to describe and solve some of the world’s great mysteries, Economists only bungle. They described free trade from among the myriad of regressions, for example, as an unqualified good only to see a global revolt forming on that basis alone.

Perhaps the difference lies in the respect each discipline displays for what are actual limits to mathematics. Physicists show a healthy regard for those constraints while Economists do not. The former worry a great deal about what their math might not be recounting; the latter truly believe there isn’t anything worth knowing not already calculated in theirs. Read more

Post truth and post factual science is all tell lies, why not just label the lie for what it is. Sins of "omission" are another type of lie, recognised as such in a court of law. Funny there is no mention of pollution of waterways, nitrate leaching, zero emissions tax on agricultural carbon pollution, though legally most farmers are within their rights to pollute.
And is GM really proven as safe, isn't it an advantage to be a GM free nation - unfortunately we're no longer a clean and green one.

as a farmer, I don't mind the idea of regulation. but here's the catch. You consumers of meat and milk can't have your cake and eat it. That is, you can't restrict NZ farming and then import dairy and meat products from countries with no restrictions, and think that you are not creating emissions or dirtying rivers. Ultimately the consumer is the one who must pay. Should we be paying farmers to produce less?

Tim12 - look at the West Coast rimu sustainable heli harvesting model. 1 specifically selected single tree per 15ha block per 15 year period. Not good enough so the greens had it banned. NZ rimu, and jobs, replaced with hardwoods clear felled in SE Asia. Planet or NZ no better off but greens got to feel good about themselves. Greens do not rest until you are shut down and replaced by foreign imports.

Yes, if we want to impose strict environmental regulations on Nz exporters, then similar standards must apply to foreign goods we import or else it is all just nonsense!

We could aim to behave like the Brits and adjust our production to suit domestic consumption. For guidelines consider
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/17/morrissons-to-hedge-bet...
Perhaps 50% of production for domestic could be a goal.
It would be a shock to our produce at any cost mentality.

Not to mention bankrupting the national economy in the process. Good old Guardian economics - burning through 90 million pounds in cash this year to keep their paper running.

I think Dr Rolleston is in danger of hypocrisy when he calls for scientific evidence based policy but previously took the position on climate change (from Radio NZ) "Dr Rolleston said that while there's certainly a lot of scientific evidence that does suggest climate change is occurring he's adamant the Federation doesn't need to have a view."

The IPCC is the world's largest scientific effort to date on global climate and the evidence is clear that global warming from greenhouse gas emissions, like methane from cattle/sheep, is causing warming with lethal potential. To deny this and the evidence to date is effectively to deny science, global warming is the biggest threat to NZ and farming in NZ. If you want to be part of the solution, not the problem, then first admit there is a problem, then take actions to tackle the problem like reducing methane emissions. Burying your head in the sand, or elsewhere, helps no one and is a disservice to farmers, NZ and the planet. Anyone care for a 45 degree heatwave like Australia?

Once the move to electric cars gains momentum, the need to cut emissions from agriculture will lessen.As i said above the consumer will be the one who pays for restrictions in agriculture. Cutting food production is dumb when you really think about it, we should all be riding bicycles before this happens.

Tim you are on the button , isn't it amazing that production of food is taken for granted and should be curtailed . Consumers have benefited hughly from technology uptake by food producers that kept pace with a growing populations .
Food costs of only 10-12% of household income brings with it complacency

You're right that consumers ultimately need to pay for the emissions of the products they consume, whether tax is collected at production (farmers) or on consumption (sales tax). And we want to have more food production but there is a balance.Can cattle/ sheep produce less methane? Not much progress here apart from changing the feed and collecting the methane from their poo and burning to produce electricity (Europe doing this).

The fairest method is a carbon tax and tax/treat all emissions the same, NZ policy is not to tax agricultural emissions- 50% of NZ's total which effectively doubles the cost for rest of NZ. Anyway global emissions needs to have massive reduction over time, possibly to zero by 2050 (average scientific view)...electric cars aren't going to do this quickly enough. We're all going to pay for it...the alternative is warming hitting the 2-4 degree warming range which will be a lot more expensive.

Blah blah the science isn't proven yet...bollocks. Maybe we should put our kids and their kids future ahead of our short term profit and our lifestyle; at 2-4 degrees of warming they won't have much of a future, look at the effects now of average global 1.1 degrees warming. NZ is woefully short of reducing emissions, about 40% over 1990 Kyoto levels.

Perhaps its time for accounting standards for companies that identify the use of resouces and the creation of waste as well as the cash flows, profiit or loss.
An enlarged statement of account.

How will a carbon tax reduce emissions? Who gets the money? And how will that money improve emissions. I agree taxes need to be fair, do we tax imported goods ( tariffs) from countries that still produce electricity by burning coal?

Maybe what's needed is global tax should be implemented on goods, not producers or polluters, goods that are rated clean and green should have no tax on them and there should be a rising scale of tax relating to emissions. Thereby making goods that have high emissions associated with them uncompeteitive. This would be a fairer system and would target consumption and discourage waste. cheap goods that don't last should be taxed and replaced with quality.