NZ Minister Speaks To Pork Industry

NEW ZEALAND - Minister of Agriculture and Biosecurity, Jim Anderton's speech to the Pork Industry at Wairakei Resort, State Highway, Wairakei.
calendar icon 25 July 2006
clock icon 8 minute read

Like all of our agricultural industries, the pork industry is a strong contributor to the New Zealand economy. It's worth $500 million a year. It also competes against frozen pork sourced mainly from Australia, Canada and Sweden. So it has the challenge of maintaining market share on its own merits. And it also has to confront the issues posed by imports in biosecurity and the management of risks.

The talents of the domestic industry are already well recognised as world leading. The marketing and research efforts of the sector have been very successful, leading to strong growth in recent years. Domestic consumption is up by 21 percent in the last three years. The development of Apple Tender, moisture enhanced product should help to grow the industry even further. I know the product has received a rave reception from consumers who have tried it.

I want to acknowledge the investment the industry has made in marketing and research to produce innovations like these. While the industry has done well to grow its market share in a competitive environment, it faces some unusual challenges. The most important are in biosecurity and animal welfare.

I know you are waiting to hear my views on these issues. Yesterday the Pork Industry Board Chairman identified PMWS as the most significant issue to arise for the pork industry for a number of years. The issue highlights the risks our primary industries face from biosecurity incursions.

PMWS is very difficult to diagnose. MAF now sees the disease as endemic, and so in April the 'unwanted organism' status of PMWS was revoked. That made the disease a responsibility for individual farmers to manage. To assist with this on-farm bio-security, the Pork Industry Board has recently released best practice guidelines. I acknowledge the efforts of the industry to attempt to deal with the disease. If there is a silver lining to the issue it is that greater emphasis has gone on to on-farm biosecurity in the pork industry. Biosecurity is an issue for all New Zealanders. The government has a leadership role through Biosecurity New Zealand. A substantial number of government agencies are involved in protecting our biosecurity. But local government, industry bodies, individual businesses and farms and even New Zealanders in our recreational pursuits all have a role.

The industry also has a shared interest in working with Biosecurity New Zealand on porcine respiratory and reproductive system surveillance. As the on-the-ground eyes and ears identifying possible diseases you all have a very important contribution to make. These examples show that biosecurity is about risk management.

We need to be pragmatic in our approach to biosecurity. That means our resources should be directed to their highest priority uses. This government has significantly increased its commitment to biosecurity. But the lurking threats are ever-present.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report called "New Zealand Under Seige." It highlighted the enormous range of bio-security threats we face. The cost of incursions is potentially higher all the time as our bio-economy grows in value. But there will never be a time when bio-security risks can be eliminated. There is no point in moving resources from their most effective use to an unattainable goal. Not only is that wasteful dreaming, the wastage actually increases the chance of an incursion.

It is crucially incumbent on us to ensure our resources are placed where they can be most effective. In our risk management system we reduce the risks by working on a number of fronts. Our knowledge and skill is actually increasing all, the time.

One example was the recent illegal import of four consignments of pork from Korea. The consignments included raw and undercooked pork that did not meet Import Health Standards. Three were incorrectly cleared and one was imported without MAF authority. The risk was detected by a random MAF retail check. Unsold goods were seized and a programme encouraged the return of unused product and raised awareness about the risks.

MAF has made improvements to reduce the likelihood of this happening again. There have been improvements to training, the Import Health Standard and profiling, and the need for enhanced surveillance of Asian food outlets. But bio-security - as I have emphasised - is an issue where we all need to work together.

We need a framework for sharing resources and paying for them; and for making decisions about surveillance and the way we respond to incursions. MAF has been working with the animal sector since early last year to develop a framework. The Surveillance and Incursion Response Working Group has been widened to bring in horticulture, forestry and aquaculture organisations. It will propose a set of principles and tools we need to work out how to share costs between government and industry when it comes to different categories of pests and diseases.

I want to acknowledge the contribution of the Pork Industry Board to the Surveillance and Incursion Response Working Group. While biosecurity is a crucial issue for producers directly, animal welfare is becoming an increasing point of differentiation for consumers and their purchasing choices. It's therefore a major issue for producers. It's important for us to respond to consumer demand.

As Minister of Agriculture, I also support in principle the World Society for the Protection of Animals proposed declaration on Animal Welfare. The housing of pregnant and lactating sows were the most controversial issues in the development of the Code of Welfare for pigs (which was released at the start of last year). I strongly believe in taking the advice of experts in these areas. The national animal welfare committee advises that the industry needs to be given time for the transition to the new code. It will reduce the maximum period for using dry sow stalls from sixteen weeks to four.

I am pleased that the Pork Industry Board has been responding to the challenges posed by the Code. Workshops on group housing systems have been well attended. Every pig farmer has been sent posters. Welfare friendly pork will benefit from labelling promotion. And surveys will be held every three years to see how many have changed over.

The first survey in March last year showed the pork industry is on track to dry stalls. Half the affected producers expect to complete the change by 2010 and the rest by 2015. The national animal welfare advisory committee has allowed five years from the issue of the code, before making a final decision on whether dry sow stalls should be completely phased out.

In the meantime, I encourage the industry to continue to work collaboratively with MAF to evaluate group housing. In regard to farrowing crates, the committee is also concerned about the confinement of the sow, although recognises there are obvious welfare benefits for the piglets. It may not be possible to have a housing system that maximises welfare for both sow and piglets simultaneously.

The national animal welfare advisory committee encourages the development of alternative farrowing systems. In particular it wants systems where the sow can be kept loose and carry out normal nest building, but without compromising piglet survival. Similar discussion on the welfare of pigs, including the use of dry sow stalls, farrowing crates and boar stalls is happening in Australia. So we are not alone in confronting the issues.

I recognise these issues pose considerable challenges to the industry and they cause some anxiety. But we need to respond to consumer demand. Enjoying a high standard of animal welfare - as with food safety and bio-security - is a market advantage for New Zealand.

In resolving all these issues, I want to emphasise that the government is ready to play its part. That doesn't mean we can take issues like animal welfare seriously if we refuse to recognise problems when they are legitimately raised. We can't make progress by shutting out eyes to the inevitability of change and progress. Instead, when it comes to making an adjustment, the government will work alongside the industry in making the adjustment work as smoothly as possible.

For a long time in New Zealand, our industries put off making changes when they were needed. As a result, change was imposed. I spent a great part of my political career calling for a smoother process of change - calling for faster development at first, and standing against the crushing way it happened when it did.

I think we have come a long way since then and our primary industries and government are used to adapting better. But we need to keep in mind the lessons of history to remember why we need to keep adapting. I believe this industry is poised to enter an exciting period of growth. Its growth in recent years has been very pleasing and the new Apple Tender product will give you confidence in the road ahead.

I congratulate you on the work you have done alongside government agencies like MAF and Biosecurity New Zealand. I look forward to working with you in the future and to hearing about the continued growth of the pork industry. And I wish you all the best for the remainder of your conference.

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