Sue Kedgley: The court battle to save our pork

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Pig industry's fight to stop another disease hitting NZ shows the dangers of relaxing controls for free trade.

Imported pork will have a competitive advantage over domestic producers. Photo / APN
Imported pork will have a competitive advantage over domestic producers. Photo / APN

Most consumers are probably unaware that container loads of pork are flooding into New Zealand, and almost half of the pork we consume here is imported.

Unfortunately, this imported pork comes from countries that harbour a nasty pig disease called Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS. This disease is known as pig aids, because it suppresses their immune system and causes acute respiratory disease and high pig mortalities.

New Zealand and Australia are among a handful of countries in the world that are free of this disease. But if it were to get into New Zealand, via raw pork, it would devastate the pig industry, just as PSA has devastated the kiwifruit industry, and the varroa mite has devastated the bee-keeping industry.

So you can imagine the fury of the pork industry when the Government announced it was going to relax biosecurity standards around pork, in pursuit of its free-trade agenda, and allow raw pork to be imported directly into butcheries and supermarkets, and sold as fresh cuts.

At present all pork coming into New Zealand has to be quarantined and heat-treated, to get rid of the PRRS virus. But the Government has decided this approach is no longer necessary, providing the pork is less than 3kg in size, and has had its lymph nodes removed.

This so-called "risk management strategy" is not used anywhere else in the world. Yet the Government has somehow calculated there is only a once in every 1227-year risk of importing the virus into New Zealand via untreated raw pork, as long as the cuts are less than 3kg in size!

The pork industry board doesn't believe this bizarre "risk strategy". And why would they, given the Government's lamentable biosecurity record to date.

Respected international scientists, such as Professor Roger Morris, don't believe the risk analysis, either. They calculate the risk of bringing the PRRS virus into New Zealand via raw, untreated pork imports, as twice in a decade.

The Pork Industry board has presented its scientific evidence to the Government, and begged it not to relax its biosecurity standard, and expose the industry to this devastating disease.

When the Government ignored their pleas, they took their case to court, and the industry has spent $1.6 million, so far, fighting the Government through the courts, right through to the Supreme Court, to try to reverse its decision. The pork industry is livid that it has had to spend a small fortune fighting the very organisation - the Ministry of Primary Industries - that is supposed to be protecting it from biosecurity threats.

It's also annoyed that the Government is refusing to apply the same animal welfare standards to imported pork, as it requires of New Zealand-raised pork.

Consumers (myself included) have spent many years fighting the pork industry to improve its animal welfare record, and as a result the industry has to get rid of sow crates by next year.

But the Government won't stipulate that imported pork should meet the same animal welfare standards - even though it knows that all our imported pork comes from countries which allow the use of sow crates, and where pigs are treated cruelly.

This means the imported pork will have a competitive advantage over domestic pig producers who have had to comply with new animal welfare standards. And consumers won't be able to work out where their fresh cuts come from because we don't have mandatory country of origin labelling of food.

The pork industry is not alone in its fight against the relaxing of our biosecurity standards. Beekeepers are fighting the Government in court over its decision to allow honey imports into New Zealand that could bring in diseases that would devastate our bee populations already weakened by the varroa mite.

They are annoyed that lax biosecurity standards have already allowed new bee diseases, such as the deformed wing virus, to get into New Zealand.

Four years ago, the Government decided to allow bee semen imports into New Zealand - over the objections of beekeepers. This new disease turned up on the fourth consignment of the imported semen, and now that virus, which shrivels the wings of bees, is slowly spreading around New Zealand, further harming our bee populations.

The spate of new diseases coming in, and the Government's ongoing legal fights against the pork and beekeeping industries, highlight the stupidity and recklessness of its policy of progressively weakening our biosecurity standards, and putting free trade ahead of biosecurity.

As long as the Government pursues this policy, it's inevitable that we will see more and more crippling new organisms enter New Zealand.

Sue Kedgley is a former Green MP.

- NZ Herald

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