Butchers have been left fuming at the Prime Minister saying they could always take phone and online orders with contactless delivery.

That was never made clear, said the Mad Butcher group chief executive Michael Morton.

Stores devalued about $3 million of meat by freezing it, he estimated, because of the confusion about whether butchers were an essential service.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday clarified that butchers, bakers and greengrocers could take orders online or over the phone as long as the delivery was contactless.

Ardern said: "You will have heard me many times before that what you can access in supermarkets, people can access through alternative means online and so on.

"There has always been guidance that wholefoods can be provided online, you would have heard me say that yesterday, that's always been the guidance of MBIE, that's why you've got outlets like My Food Bag who have continued to operate.

"That's always existed, what we have said to those grocers is that they can't open their retail ends, they can't open their shops. That's something we've been utterly consistent on."

Morton disagreed.

That butchers could sell online was never made clear even when Ardern was specifically asked about what the Mad Butchers should do with all their meat, he said.

"At no stage did she say that they should go and do home delivery and so forth."

After the lockdown began on March 25, some Mad Butchers stores stayed open believing they met the criteria they were essential services but were told to shut up shop.

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The next day Ardern was specifically asked about Mad Butchers having to dump meat and she was sure there was a way to use it appropriately and that shouldn't be wasted because "someone's no longer able to sell across the counter".

On March 27, a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesperson said: "Butcher shops are not classified as essential. What they supply can largely also be purchased at supermarkets.

"This approach has been taken to prevent community transmission and to ensure people limit movement to their suburbs."

Morton said they'd sent two lawyers to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment over the past two weeks asking for clarity but both went unanswered.

Morton now understands however that you can only do home delivery if stores already had that option before the lockdown.

And that was too late for most stores, he said.

"That ship's sailed, to be fair. We've left it up to individual stores and three or four are going to have a go.

"But the time we get more meat in and get everything set up we'll only have a week left - hopefully."

He estimated stores had devalued $3 million of meat by freezing it before the lockdown but the full extent of the waste wouldn't be known until franchise owners could get back into their stores.

Morton said many of the Mad Butcher franchises were also very frustrated as they were forced to close their doors while chain grocers were allowed to stay open.

He said he understood the reasons for the lockdown, but said the lack of consistency was very frustrating.

Retail Meat New Zealand welcomed the decision to allow butchers to operate online and over the phone with contactless delivery and said it came off the back of conversations it had with the Government.

The association's general manager, Pippa Hawkins, said they knew their industry was "lucky to be able to continue to operate".

"Whilst our members have a responsibility to keep their communities fed, they also have to ensure they mitigate any risk they might pose."

The Government today released guidelines in order for butcheries to operate, including:

• The retail shop must remain closed to the public for over-the-counter or self-service sales.
• Butcheries must operate subject to health measures, and registration with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MBIE) if required.
• Applies to raw products only.
• Operation with more than 5 staff (including the owner) must register with MPI essential services

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website