Monday, 28 August 2017

The parentage of scandals

While we wait to learn whether the mother of all scandals will in fact break soon, or be tied up with legal threats forever, here's a genuine scandal with clearly identified parents.

Its a familiar old game: private interests 'work with' the government and end up being subsidised. I once heard David Caygill describe his first meeting with Fletchers after he became Minister of Energy following the 1984 election. Fletchers came in talking about the potential for exploiting iron sands. Caygill said something like, "sounds great, but why are you telling me?". The answer was they wanted the government to underwrite the project. That's how it used to happen under Muldoon, and if the "let us help you buy Xero shares" scandal is any guide, we're right back in that same place now. Except with new opportunities.

Like controlling the flow of research and information, as New Zealand's fertiliser duopolists, Ballance and Ravensdown, appear to be doing through Overseer.

Overseer is a critical tool for environmental regulation tool in NZ, relied on by all and sundry to predict nitrate leaching based on farm level inputs, among other things. Check out the "about us" section and note the following claim at the top of the page:
The nutrient budgeting tool OVERSEER is the result of a long history of collaboration between the government, the fertiliser industry and agricultural scientists. 
OVERSEER is jointly owned in equal shares by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)AgResearch Limited and the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand (FANZ).

Lots of public money has gone into developing this software as admitted in the first sentence. The second sentence is false. I know this because I scrolled down below the nice photo to read:
OVERSEER Limited was established in April 2016, to create a sustainable business that will ensure the long-term viability of OVERSEER to meet growing user needs. 
As a company, we work towards providing a scientifically robust tool that enables nutrient flows within the farm to be better understood. We recognise the important role we play in New Zealand primary industries and are focused on ensuring the tool meets users needs.
A quick visit to the Companies Office shows that Overseer Ltd is 99.93% owned by New Zealand Phosphate Company Limited, which is owned 50:50 by Ballance and Ravensdown.

AgResearch owns the remaining .07% of Overseer, MPI owns nothing. So the primary tool for environmental regulation of agriculture is fully controlled by a fertliser duopoly.

Which is why, under this structure, Overseer will not properly evaluate biological or regenerative farming systems: these systems threaten the earnings of the fertiliser companies, who control the research agenda.

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