( dpa ) - The pictures of snow-capped mountain peaks, crystal clear lakes and golden sandy beaches in the advertisements are stunning and the headlines say, "100 per cent Pure New Zealand."
But the real picture is not exactly like those commercials, which the national Tourism New Zealand agency uses to woo 2.4 million foreign tourists a year, according to a government report on the state of the environment released on Thursday.
It showed that New Zealand is paying the price for developing state-of-the-art farming practices that have made it the world's biggest exporter of dairy products and a major producer of meat, fruit and other food crops.
Nearly half of New Zealand's 268,112-square-kilometre land area is farmed and in the last 10 years the number of cows alone increased 24 per cent.
"The net effect of intensified land use is to increase the amount of nutrients, fertiliser, sediment and animal effluent polluting streams, rivers and lakes," the Ministry of Environment report said.
As a result, 40 per cent of rivers and lakes monitored last summer were too polluted to swim in and 10 per cent of swimming spots had dangerously high bacteria levels.
And more than half the 4.2 million population suffer from poor air quality on occasions.
Although set in the South Pacific, New Zealand is a temperate country with historically high rainfall, but the push to produce more from the land is threatening water supplies, with farms using 50 per cent more than in 1999 through the increasing use of irrigation to develop previously uneconomic land.
The report also notes the country's old and polluting vehicle fleet, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, with replacement tree-planting at its lowest level for years, and over-fishing.
On the environmental upside, economic growth is not outstripping energy demand, more people are using public transport, waste is being dealt with in more acceptable ways, public ozone levels have stabilised and ultraviolet (UV) levels have dropped.
While his ministry insisted that " New Zealand has an enviable clean and green environment on a global scale," Environment Minister Trevor Mallard said, "We simply cannot afford to be complacent. A sustainable economy cannot be built on plundering the natural environment for short term gain."
He said that New Zealand's clean and green reputation in its international markets was "not only a source of pride, it is also critical to our present and future economic well-being as consumers the world over seek out environmentally friendly and climate friendly products and services."
The Green Party and the Greenpeace organisation called on the government to limit the expansion of agriculture, which accounts for half of all New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.