Big meat company Silver Fern Farms has repaid the $43 million wage subsidy it claimed in the Covid-19 response.
The claim was the largest of the about $111m paid to meat companies in the pandemic emergency response, a time of strong meat earnings and while the sector was deemed an essential service and allowed to keep operating.
Farmer cooperative Alliance Group was paid $34.3m and Japanese-owned Anzco Foods $18.8m.
They would not comment on the current status of their claims, referring the Herald to previous statements committing to future audits of their eligibility.
The claims by some processors caused anger in the $9 billion export meat industry.
Monthly meat exports were valued at a record $1 billion in March, up 12 per cent on March last year, according to the Meat Industry Association.
Several processors including large operators Affco, Greenlea and Hellaby's did not claim the wage subsidy.
Silver Fern Farms chief executive Simon Limmer said the company would not meet the eligibility criteria for the wage claim subsidy claim after all and had repaid the taxpayer- funded payment to the Government.
"The Government's wage subsidy mechanism provided us with the confidence to retain our full workforce through the extreme uncertainty of the past two months. Given our management of the crisis to date, we won't meet the 30 per cent reduced revenue threshold and are pleased that these funds have been repaid and can support the broader rebuild process."
The criteria for wage subsidy eligibility is a business must have experienced a minimum 30 per cent Covid-19-related decline in actual or predicted revenue over the period of a month, or 30 days, when compared with the same period last year.
Claimants did not have to specify the month.
Silver Fern Farms, half owned by Shanghai Maling (Hong Kong) and half by a New Zealand farmer co-operative, announced a $70m net profit for FY19. Alliance posted a before tax profit of $20.7m for FY19.
Anzco on Friday announced record revenue of $1.7b and a net profit after tax of $22m. Operating cashflow was $140.7m.
Herald inquiries suggest the $111m in wage subsidy payments were to 13 meat companies.
Silver Fern Farms' claim was for 6161 employees, Alliance's for 4913, and Anzco's for 2679.
Several smaller meat companies have also been paid subsidies.
Non-claimers Affco, Greenlea and Hellaby between them employ more than 6000 people.
The meat industry employs an estimated 22,000 people.
Earlier this month, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the size of wage subsidy claims from some primary sector companies allowed to keep operating in the Covid-19 crisis had prompted him to ask for extra policing by Government officials.
He said he had been surprised by the size of claims by some meat, timber and fishing companies given they have had the "huge privilege" of operating throughout lockdown levels, albeit with restrictions.
While the $10b-plus taxpayer-funded wage subsidy scheme did not come under his portfolio, he had asked subsidy administrator the Ministry of Social Development to ensure there was "no obvious abuse".
He had also asked his ministry, MPI, to monitor payments to primary sector players "on the basis there should be some consistency across the claims that justify both the amount and the sector requests", he told the Herald.