Labour MPs have taken offence at an Iranian agricultural delegation after they were told the Iranians wouldn't shake the hand of their female counterpart.

Labour's Jo Luxton is the deputy chair of the Primary Production select committee, which held a meeting with the Iranians today.

She says as a woman it made her uncomfortable, but she understands that in her role as an MP she'll deal with situations of cultural difference.

Luxton says they were told at the start of the meeting it wouldn't be appropriate for her to approach the visitors, to shake their hand.


Labour's Rino Tirikatene called it an affront, while Kieran McAnulty says it's unacceptable.

He says it meant nearly half the room didn't shake the hand of the delegation upon entry - and that was purely as an instinctive response to the last-minute instruction that they wouldn't shake Luxton's hand.

In Iran men and women generally will not shake hands unless the female outstretches her hand first - and the man is willing to reciprocate the gesture, the Cultural Atlas website says.

Iranian men commonly greet women by placing their hand over their heart and nodding/bowing gently. This greeting may also be used with other people who they perceive are unaccustomed to being touched.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said he had not been told of the incident, but expected the committee would do a report and send it to the Prime Minister.

Asked what the appropriate behaviour was for a delegation, Peters said he would prefer to know exactly what happened.

"Offshore, in certain circumstances when I have met female ministers I've known what the protocol is. You can just be as polite as you possibly can but it does not require a handshake. A lot of cultures don't go in for handshaking, whether it's male or female."

He had not met the delegation himself but had seen them in passing.

"You've got to have regard to cultural sensitivities, looking around the world, and be very aware of the environment that they are in. And a Member of Parliament would be expected to know that."