The Government is still "working through" a possible legal requirement for Covid vaccinations for primary sector workforces if it would help safeguard market access.
In response to a Herald inquiry, the Ministry for Primary Industries said it would be working with the primary industry in coming weeks on what such a requirement could mean in practice.
The possibility was briefly referred to by Government ministers in a recent vaccination mandate announcement but no details were offered.
Meanwhile, New Zealand's major primary exporters including Fonterra, meat companies and kiwifruit marketer Zespri, are seeking further information from the Government on the possible mandate.
"It's important to note that there's currently no legal requirement for mandatory vaccinations for market access purposes, as it's still being worked through," said MPI director market access, Steve Ainsworth.
"Over the next few weeks, we'll be working through what this might in practice with industry."
Fonterra, New Zealand's biggest business and a world-leading dairy exporter, employs 9000 people in 29 dairy manufacturing sites throughout the country. Its total New Zealand workforce is around 12,000.
Chief operating officer Fraser Whineray said the company was conducting a risk assessment "to understand what the Government's new Covid-19 protection framework means for our workplaces".
This work had yet to be completed.
Whineray said New Zealand dairy companies' advocate DCANZ had been leading engagement with the Government on the matter on behalf of the sector, including Fonterra.
"As this work is not yet complete, it's too early to say what impact such a requirement would have on our workplaces. However, given vaccination has been readily available to everyone for some time now, we would expect to be able to comply with such a requirement."
Whineray said customers and regulators had taken a close interest in Fonterra's Covid workplace protections throughout the pandemic.
"We have had customers express interest in our employee vaccination rates and we expect these requests to become more common."
Fonterra, which said it had been strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated, has more than 40 manufacturing sites in total globally, including six in Australia and the New Zealand production factories.
The Meat Industry Association, which represents companies making up New Zealand's $9.2 billion meat export industry, said it welcomed Government recognition that having a fully vaccinated workforce could support continued global market access.
The processing and exporting companies it represents employ more than 25,000 people at 60 sites.
Chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said MIA looked forward to details on how such a requirement could be applied.
"Mandatory vaccinations are one tool in our toolbox. Our industry is operating under strict protocols to ensure the sector's continuing operations do not compromise people's safety or contribution to the spread of Covid-19," she said.
"We also support the Government's plans for a clear and simplified risk assessment process to help meat processing and exporting companies decide whether or not they wish to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory at their plants."
Karapeeva said currently companies could make vaccination a health and safety requirement at plants.
"But this is a difficult and complex process and requires companies to undertake an assessment of the different risks of vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people."
MIA "applauded" the Government for taking the step, she said.
While employee vaccination information at meat plants was private, companies had indicated that staff vaccination rates were broadly in-line with uptake rates in their regions, although this would vary from plant to plant and region to region.
"Maori and Pasifika make up a significant proportion of our workforce and we recognise these groups, in particular, are lagging behind others in getting vaccinated. Some processing companies have partnered with Maori health providers to promote clinics as a way to lift vaccination rates."
MIA also supported the roll-out of rapid antigen tests to be able to test a proportion of workers daily.
Zespri, supplied with export fruit from hundreds of orchards and packhouses, said it was seeking more information from the Government to understand proposed changes, including the consultation process.
The grower-owned global marketer strongly encouraged all its staff to be vaccination and worked with the Bay of Plenty DHB to support efforts to increase rates in the industry and community, a spokesperson said.
"Any decisions on workplace vaccination would remain a matter for individual employers."