Greenpeace is spreading harmful misinformation that there is a link between nitrates in water and colorectal cancer, Federated Farmers Vice President Wayne Langford says.
“This is a new low for Greenpeace, who are using misinformation about a human health issue to prey on people’s fear of cancer and to push an anti-farming agenda.
“Farmers and others in rural communities are drinking this water, so if there is a link then we want to know about it. But we will be taking our advice from health professionals, not environmental activists,” Langford said.
Greenpeace aren’t remotely qualified to be making those claims, and what they are saying is wildly at odds with what credible health professionals and organisations are saying on the issue.
“Nobody is disputing that we have an issue with nitrates in Canterbury, that’s been known for some time. What we are disputing is Greenpeace’s claim that there is a link between nitrates in drinking water and cancer,” Langford said.
“Greenpeace are misleading the public by basing their claims on a single Danish correlation study rather than what the international body of scientific evidence shows.”
Langford said farmers are well aware they need to make changes to reduce nitrates in waterways and have been working hard with their communities for over a decade to improve environmental outcomes.
“We’ve fenced and planted waterways to exclude cattle and absorb nutrients, and we’re now a lot more precise with the way we use fertiliser, which means we use less of it.”
It’s a really complex challenge and farmers are doing all the right things, but it takes a long time for nitrate-rich water to work its way through the groundwater system.
“It will take time for us to start to see the fruits of our improvements, but I’m confident we are heading in the right direction, and we will start to see results.”
“There are plenty of good reasons for us to be working to reduce nitrates in waterways, but Greenpeace’s misinformation isn’t one of them.
“Greenpeace need to be held accountable for the accuracy of the claims they are making and the information they share with the public. It’s just causing needless stress, anxiety, and division,” Langford said.
Additional information about what the experts are saying:
Bowel Cancer NZ: “The weight of evidence strongly suggests that nitrates in drinking water do not cause bowel cancer, and it is not currently understood how dietary nitrates could cause bowel cancer”. Read more here:
The New Zealand Ministry of Health: “Current evidence suggests that nitrate levels lower than 50mg/L are safe”. Note: this is equivalent to 11.3 mg/l nitrate-nitrogen. Read more here:
New Zealand colorectal cancer surgeon Professor Frank Frizelle: The levels of nitrates in water have been studied in relation to many illnesses, especially a wide variety of cancers (brain, breast, bladder, kidney, colorectal, stomach, oesophageal, thyroid), and no consistent and/or reliable association has been found”. Read more here:
Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor: “In recent years, an association between nitrate levels in drinking-water supplies and bowel cancer risk in adults has been identified in some overseas studies, but the evidence base is not conclusive with respect to whether the relationship is causal or coincidental”. Read more here:
ECAN Director of Science Dr Tim Davie: “For drinking water, the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards set a Maximum Acceptable Value (MAV) of 50 milligrams per litre (mg/l) for nitrate, which is equivalent to 11.3 mg/l nitrate-nitrogen. This is based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard. A 2018 review of the science behind the WHO standard, which included the Danish study, concluded there was not enough evidence to change those limits. Read more here:
The World Health Organisation: “There is no clear evidence of carcinogenicity from nitrate per se in humans.” Read more here.