By ANGELA GREGORY
WHANGAREI - The country's sole possum meat exporter has some powerful backing in the form of Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton, who has promised to help the company over bureaucratic hurdles in overseas markets.
The Whangarei-based possum processor company, Exotic Game Meats, processes up to 500 possums a day for the Taiwanese market when the plant is running.
In the past 15 months it has air-freighted six, 600kg shipments to Taiwan and a smaller amount to Hong Kong, where the meat fetches more than $20 a kilogram, but company director Bruce Mulligan said the turnover was limited by outdated Taiwanese regulations.
Exotic Game Meats was required to keep the possums alive in captivity under strict control for 28 days before slaughter, to lower the risk that they were disease-carrying animals.
During a factory tour by the minister, Mr Mulligan told him the Taiwanese edict had no food safety benefits and added costs to his operation. Mr Anderton said he would raise the problem with Taiwanese officials in Wellington, as it was almost a non-tariff barrier.
"If it's not a health requirement, and just a hangover from history, then why shouldn't they remove it?"
Mr Mulligan said only Northland processors could export possum meat because it was the only part of the country free of TB.
If the Taiwanese situation was resolved his company could lift production to 1000 possums a day, employing up to 60 people including trappers. Mr Mulligan said there was also a huge market in China, where possum meat was being substituted for the now protected civet cat, regarded as a delicacy.
The Deputy Prime Minister - and so-called Minister of Possums - said he didn't mind raising the issues despite getting "laughed at all around the country."
"No other politicians are willing to," he said.
Mr Anderton said the possum industry was no more of a joke than the sheep industry.
By ANGELA GREGORY