Deceitful ESR report (with explanation)

A Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and Fonterra commissioned an investigation by New Zealand Food Safety and ESR finds it is safe to drink nitrate polluted water – Ethical independent public good science or a New Zealand version of “Dumbfuckery”? *

*Some on the media sub-committee of NZFFA have reservations that readers may rightly be disturbed by the writer’s use of “dumbfuckery”.

After deliberation, the consensus is that the duplicity of one of New Zealand’s largest corporates, Fonterra, combining with New Zealand Government Ministries, NZ Food Safety and the Crown Research Institute – Environmental Science and Research (ESR) to create a commissioned Public Relations report minimising water pollution in the guise of peer-reviewed research deserves nothing less than the strongest possible response.

Dumbfuckery is borrowed from the Australian comedienne Daniel Hamilton, and it is in the context of the YouTube link below that this shocking but apt word is used.

Watch: Coronavirus Dumbfuckery – YouTube

, Deceitful ESR report (with explanation)


The apparent altruism shown by Fonterra and MIBE might be hiding a darker agenda;

An unsustainable level of diffuse pollution from New Zealand’s largest primary industry has been polluting this country’s freshwater in recent decades. Aquatic life, (macroinvertebrates, amphibians, vulnerable life stages of recreational and native fish), is being lost to toxic levels of nitrate in freshwater.

It seems the Department of Conservation (DoC), Ministry for the Environment (MfE), MIBE, & Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), are staunch enough to sustain public outrage from anglers concerned about the extinction of native fish, (and the birds that feed on them), and to ignore the health of rural residents and recreational users of freshwater due to the importance of “the economy”.

Regional governments are doing their part to support the economy by freely issuing consents for farms and processing plans to pollute to levels that are not environmentally sustainable – Public pollution for private profit.

The fact that 800,000 New Zealanders are exposed to polluted groundwater from drinking from unregulated private wells is not a good look for New Zealand Inc.

With growing concerns about correlations between bowel cancer, and short term pregnancies & premature births, this “research” is timely and its integrity critical.

The question is can this “research” be trusted?

Evaluation by a “gumboot information broker”

As a long-serving veterinarian, I have had occasions where I have been asked to act as an information broker to evaluate the worth of a scientific publication or advertorial.

While there is no way to ensure you can get to the truth, it is helpful to adopt a systematic approach to improve the accuracy of your evaluation:

  1. How does it sit with my knowledge and experience?

Through my monitoring of rural wells for NZFFA and Greenpeace, I have tested water from over 600 wells for nitrate. Only a small subset of these samples has nitrate levels close to or above the New Zealand Maximum Allowable Value (MAV) for nitrate of 11.3 mg/L NO3-N.

100% of a smaller number of well owners with bowel cancer came from this subset.

As a qualified fish vet, I know water quality as it relates to fish health. There are lowland streams in Canterbury with nitrate levels toxic enough to kill trout eggs and fry.

Nitrate levels in groundwater in parts of New Zealand exceed the New Zealand MAV for human health.

  1. Ranking the publication

It is helpful to rank publications giving the highest ranking to peer-reviewed papers published in reputable journals. Open-sourced non-peer-reviewed articles from the press and internet must be read with caution along with drug company literature where there is pressure to “cut and paste” scientific articles to best commercial advantage.

There is no guarantee that any source is either right or wrong but independent peer review is an accepted best practice for validating research.

[REVIEWED BY: Matt Ashworth, ESR Risk Assessment and Social Systems Group]

The research authors are employed by the Risks Assessment and Social Systems Group of ESR. This purported peer review is therefore little more than in house quality assurance.

  1. Where is the research published?

A summary of this report was first published as a press release by the authors, NZ Food Safety and a science reporter in the Waikato Times on 30 August 2021.

This is unusual, as the Waikato Times is not one of the many recognized scientific publishers.

Has this research been targeted at readers of the Waikato Times?

  1. Who are the authors?

Peter Cressey is a chemical risk assessor with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) Chemistry Canterbury University working at ESR

Dr Belinda Cridge is a mechanistic toxicologist working as the Technical Lead for Drinking Water at ESR

Other publications:

“Dr Belinda Cridge: 1080 scepticism still an issue” Northland Age, 11 Sept. 2018

Belinda Cridge: “I would be happy to drink the water downstream of the1080 drop” Hawkes Bay Today, 27 Sep 2018

  1. Who commissioned the research?

It is necessary to consider the purpose of this corporate and government-commissioned research and question if there might be commercial or political bias.

In this case, the study was funded by Fonterra and MIBE. There is participation from NZ Food Safety, with the study contracted to ESR.

Environment Science and Research Limited. (ESR) is a Crown Research Institute bound by the Crown Research Institutes Act (1992) required to fund itself from researching a corporate structure owned by Ministers of the Crown.

There are difficulties in achieving independent public good science under such relationships.

  1. The Report and Press Release

CSC21025_Nitrate_in_food_and_water_FINAL_13_August_2021.pdf – Digital Newspaper & Magazine Subscriptions

The Report

The premise and design of the “research” appears to be that because there are greater amounts of nitrate in food than water then a chemical risk assessment of the eating habits of New Zealanders would provide proof that public health concerns regarding nitrate polluted water are unfounded. This is despite a growing body of evidence including several large cohort population studies showing a clear correlation with cancer.

What the researchers elected not to consider and could not possibly understand were the pathogeneses by which the metabolites of nitrate (nitrosamines) cause disease within the body.

This is reasonable as this information has yet to be understood by scientists due to multiple interactions between bacteria, the body’s many biochemical pathways, and varied components of the diet.

We only know nitrate in water is absorbed orally and is readily converted to nitrite, a powerful oxidant, by bacteria in the mouth in an alkaline environment, and that food is absorbed in an acidic environment in the stomach.

What have yet to be determined are the multiple paths leading to the development of disease and the many associated factors that might contribute to an adverse outcome.

This study appears to make claims beyond the evidence provided.

The nitrate levels used in the study, taken from the national database of council water supplies, massively underestimate the level of nitrate in groundwater in intensive dairying regions such as Canterbury where maximum readings for some groundwater-fed lowland rivers and streams exceed the MAV for nitrate.

The Press Release

The correlation studies showing links to cancer from nitrate in drinking water involve very large sample sizes and long term exposures of up to 20 years and are red flags that cannot be dismissed by a simple chemical risk assessment.

Without understanding the processes, the authors have not provided proof that nitrate in drinking water does not increase cancer risk.

The “cheap and cheerful” advice to take vitamin C and all will be well, (without evidence), is disturbing advice from research carried out in conjunction with NZ Food Safety.

The press release should be seen for what it is; PR damage control by an exposed corporate and a complicit Government.

Shades of the Tobacco Industry and its lobbying in the 1970s!

Verdict – Dumbfuckery!

My evaluation leads me to conclude that ESR, the State’s corporate science authority, has constructed “research” following its clients’ brief.

Fonterra and MBIE have purchased a report of dubious worth to deflect public anger due to the dairy industry polluting our environment to the point that it is beginning to threaten public health, and to which central and regional government has failed to respond in a timely and meaningful manner.

A chemical risk assessment considers RISK and EXPOSURE. This report shows the authors do not know the risk and have grossly understated the exposure of nitrate in drinking water.

Their action in publishing their “research” in the Waikato Times supports my opinion ESR and NZ Food Safety are complicit in a cynical public relations exercise to protect the reputations of Government Ministries and Fonterra.

It would be far better for the Government and Fonterra to provide adequate funding to the Otago University medical researchers struggling to undertake critically important medical research on the potential public health effects arising from drinking nitrate polluted water.

Dr Peter Trolove



, Deceitful ESR report (with explanation)

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it” Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle

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8 Responses to Deceitful ESR report (with explanation)

  1. James Eastland says:

    Grubby deceit and deception by vested interests and government. Sterling work by Dr Peter Trolove and NZFFA.

  2. Stewart Hydes says:

    In days gone by, people felt they could trust scientific reports, and government agencies.
    But for many years, we have been misled.
    “User Pays” has been a disaster, for public health, and environmental sustainability.
    Whilst government agencies (like Crown Research Institutes) have recovered operating costs .. these recoveries have been dwarfed by the cost to our environment, and public health.
    The whole thing is driven by cheque books, under a profit motive.
    The government bans plastic bags in supermarkets .. what a joke. Fiddling while Rome burns.
    It’s not individuals within the system that are wrong .. it’s the whole system.
    The system lets individuals away with behaviour that is not collectively sustainable .. and then the system panics . the pendulum swings the other way ., and activities that would have been fine under a sustainable model .. are suddenly penalised.
    Agricultural intensification is a good example. Some of what was allowed (in terms of development) was never environmentally sustainable .. and now all Farmers are being hit with “unworkable regulations”.
    The fact that Fonterra paid for this report .. surely renders it untrustworthy.
    Anybody who can’t see that .. has rocks in their head?
    What was “clean, green, 100% Pure” .. a reasonable reality just a few decades ago .. worth to us, as a country? It’s seriously eroded now, and still heading south .. although we still trade on its endearing marketing image.
    We need to get back to funding critical research of national significance .. by truly independent authorities.
    That could stop us getting into a mess in the first place .. rather than first getting into the mess, and then being faced with the dilemma of how to get out of it.
    (Having said that .. trust has been eroded. It will take years before people start to once again trust some of the rubbish we are presented with.)

  3. Dr. Charlie Baycroft says:

    Dr. Mike Joy is perhaps NZ’s most reliable source of information about our fresh water resources.

    He believes that the nitrate levels in much of our fresh water are excessive and detrimental.

    “Between 300,000 and 800,000 New Zealanders may be exposed to potentially harmful levels of nitrates in their drinking water, which may increase their chances of developing bowel cancer.

    The study, overseen by Victoria and Otago universities, used overseas research including a major Danish study that found a link with bowel cancer when levels were as low as 0.87mg/L of water.

    The current safe level in New Zealand, as mandated by the World Health Organisation, is 11mg/L of water.

    Victoria University ecologist Mike Joy said it was a wake-up call for councils which had been far too permissive in allowing high stocking rates on dairy farms.”

    Pollution is defined as introducing toxic substances into an ecosystem.

    Pollution is discouraged because it is known to be detrimental to the health and survival of organisms that live in the ecosystem.

    Nitrates, insecticides, herbicides and other pesticides are known to be toxic substances. Most are supplies with clear written warnings of the dangers related to their use.

    The enthusiastic and excessive pollution of the ecosystems with these poisons is accepted and promoted because of potential economic benefits and an assumption that the economic gains are greater than the adverse consequences.

    There is abundant evidence that the pollution of ecosystems with these “invisible” toxins is killing off the invertebrates and microorganisms that are essential for the integrity of all ecosystems.

    This is also being ignored because we do not see or appreciate the importance of these little species.

    You may or may not have noticed this gradual decline in the number of aquatic invertebrates in our rivers or on the windscreens of our vehicles over the past couple of decades as I have.

    When I asked Mike Joy “are the bugs disappearing” he said “Yes, of course they are but no-one seems to care”.

    The mayflies and other aquatic insects are the “canaries in the coal mine” and their decline indicates an impending crisis.

    Unfortunately, it is in our nature to rationalize, deny and ignore what is happening until a crisis is perceived.

    Ecological damage can be tolerated until a tipping point is reached.

    Rapid and undeniable degradation then occurs and is very difficult to deal with.

    According to Dr. Joy, the pollution and degradation of our fresh water ecosystems has already reached this tipping point and a crisis is probably imminent.

    The people in our government talk about “sustainability” but are only concerned with sustaining their political dominance and the revenue they take from us and spend to bribe us to vote for them.

    Their short-term political futures are more important to them than anything else.

    Our political system has become an OLIGARCHY in which a small minority of influential party members and affluent financial supporters have power over the rest of us.

    If we wish to restore democracy we need to stop complaining and start participating in the political parties so that the “ordinary people” are also represented in their government.

    • Stewart Hydes says:

      Thanks Charlie

      You are absolutely right about the drastic reduction in the number of insects kersplatting on the windscreens of our vehicles when travelling at night. This is a bellweather we’ve all witnessed, and we can all relate to (those of us who have been driving at night for a few decades, that is).

      This is aligned with the 75% reduction in global insect biomass over the past 30 or so years, that international studies have indicated.

      Our improved insecticides for agricultural production come at a cost. The label always talks about the target pest species against which the product is effective – but never mentions all of the non-target bykill.

      It’s like flyspray. We call it that – because that’s what we want rid of – put it generally kills a very wide range of insects, besides.

      For a supposedly very intelligent species – we are actually pretty stupid.

      We can keep our heads in the sand for as long as we like .. the longer it is, the more we will get bitten on the arse.

  4. Dave Rhodes says:

    Not surprisingly, the ESIR Report is dismissive of such studies as “The Danish Study” – actually Schullehner et al., 2018 – see

    The WHO recommends the maximum allowed value (MAV) of nitrate in drinking water of 11.3 mg/L – set down decades ago before more modern studies and not updated since. New Zealand has adopted this “standard” without question. However, since that time, more and more studies suggest the links between higher MAV even above 0.87 mg/L (one-thirteenth NZ’s limit) human health is being impacted.

    Above 5 mg/L premature births increase by 50%. Blue-baby syndrome where the baby’s blood supply is deprived of oxygen by the released nitrogen becomes more and more prevalent.

    Of the tests done by NZFFA we see many private wells contain dangerous levels of Nitrate, yet the government reaction is to do nothing and leave it to the individual to sort out the mess created by excessive fertilizer usage.

    In fact, if you actually look at it, the government’s reaction to high nitrate levels is to approve ever more intense agriculture!

    Some background reading:

    Nitrate contamination and drinking water

    NZFFA - New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers

  5. Alan+Rennie says:

    Thw WHO do not allow 11.5 mg nitrate, thats NZs interpretation, Just like New Zealand Drinking Water guidelines from 1984 to 1995 !
    Why you may well ask ? The W.H.O do explain why ” It is inappropriate to allow any level of a pesticide toxic agent in human’s drinking water”Natalie Foroda changed these guidelines for the NZ Govt
    The U S. recognise the physical size difference of our societies most viunerable and have some lower “Maximum Allowable Values” for certain poisons for children. NZ Ministry of Health base all their figures on a 70kg adult.

  6. Steve Gerard says:

    Think you got it right Peter – a New Zealand version of “Dumbfuckery”? *

  7. Grant Henderson says:

    Perhaps the nitrate issue is New Zealand’s version of Minamata.

    Might be a case of the classic corporate coverup?

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