This US piggy went to market

MATT NIPPERT
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2014

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Cheap pork imports are the target of a rear-guard action against the relaxation of import laws, with several MPs siding with pork industry lobbyists in a select committee report.

The report of Parliament's primary production selection committee into pork import standards made public some MPs' doubts about the 2011 decision to allow raw pig meat imports.

The report said some members of the committee felt the decision came after trading partners threw their weight around and the chance of containing an outbreak of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) was over-estimated,

"Some of us felt that the science was not considered adequately, and that New Zealand remains under international pressure on these matters, and may have to accept standards for imports that are lower than domestic standards," the report said.

PRRS poses no threat to humans, but can be transmitted among pig herds. Australia and New Zealand are the only two main markets free of the disease.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) concluded chances of the disease spreading to New Zealand animals was extremely low, and any outbreak could be contained.

Owen Symmans, the chief executive of the New Zealand Pork Industry Board who appeared before the select committee, told the Sunday Star-Times there was a divergence in scientific opinion on the risk.

Symmans said MPI research claimed the annual chances of an outbreak was less than one in 10,000, while his board's research put it as close to one in 10.

"Obviously farmers are very concerned," he said.

Researchers at the Pork Production Consultancy, the Massey University-based unit said to contain the country's best pig experts, were unable to comment on Symmans' claims as they had a contract with his board.

Mad Butcher chief executive Michael Morton said in May, after being criticised by NZ Pork for selling cuts from the United States, the relaxation of import rules was good for consumers.

Morton said locally produced pork lions sold for $19.99 per kilo, compared to $11.99 for US product. ‘

Symmans said higher local prices came down to cheap US and Canadian grain feed, some of it subsidised.

The pork board's lobbying of the select committee is the latest in its campaign of challenges to the MPI decision. A judicial review by the board, culminating in a hearing before the Supreme Court, ended in failure last year.

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- Sunday Star Times

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