A doctor says the discovery of three hungry Northland children eating food scraps meant for pigs was like a scene from the slums of Brazil.

Kaitaia GP Lance O'Sullivan said a local garage owner told him he found three children - aged 5, 7 and 9 - in the yard at the back of his business, thinking they were up to no good.

But he discovered they were eating food scraps from a pig bucket. When he asked what they were doing, they said: "We're hungry." About the same time, Dr O'Sullivan was called by a mother worried her toddler had drunk some medicine in the fridge. She didn't have money for petrol to take the boy to the clinic, so he went to the home.

"It soon became clear why the child had taken this medicine. The fridge was bare except for medicine bottles, half a block of butter and a small amount of milk and cheese.

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"This child hadn't mistakenly found this bottle of medicine and got past the childproof lid. This child was hungry and in desperation took what-ever was available to put in its puku."

Dr O'Sullivan said such incidents were at the extreme end of the poverty spectrum he encountered. "But this shouldn't be happening in New Zealand at all. It's what you hear about in the slums of Brazil.

"We shouldn't accept one incident like this, let alone two in one small community."

He said some poverty was caused by irresponsible spending, and welfare in the form of pre-charged cards for food was an "awesome idea". But some people simply didn't have enough money for necessities.

Dr O'Sullivan said the country's leaders should be accountable for policies that cause poverty through rising costs of food and electricity and lower taxes for the wealthy.

Northlanders should criticise council policies that allowed poker machines and liquor outlets in the region's poorest areas. "These two examples are taking food out of the mouths of Northland babies."