Samoa rewarded for turkey tail turnaround

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 14:12 30/11/2011

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Samoa has lifted a ban on imported American turkey tails and as a reward for doing so it will now be admitted to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Samoa has been trying for 13 years to enter, but its ban on high fat turkey tails has kept it out.

Turkey tails, like chicken frames and New Zealand's mutton flaps, are off-cuts of the food manufacturing industry and despite their high fat content, are sold to mainly Third World markets.

WTO says Samoa's membership will be finalised next month conditional on it eliminating "the prohibition on the importation and domestic distribution of turkey tails and turkey tail products".

Samoa would be allowed to impose a 300 per cent import duty for two years so it can "develop and implement a nation-wide programme promoting healthier diet and life style choices".

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy welcomed Samoa's move, saying it will "enable Samoa to participate more fully in the global economy and will provide the country with a predictable and stable basis for growth and development."

In New Zealand the ending of the ban was termed "highly problematic" by Associate Professor Nick Wilson of the University of Otago Medical School at Wellington.

"From a public health perspective the decision to allow turkey tails … will fuel the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease that are hitting Pacific Island nations," he said..
Bloomberg news agency said New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser supported lifting the ban.

"Trade bans on selected items are unlikely to be effective in addressing obesity and health issues," his spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Samoans are not so sure, especially Health Ministry chief executive Palanitina Tupuimatagi Toelupe who first banned the tails in 2007.

"These are the contradictions we have to face, where health is compromised for the sake of trade and development," he told Bloomberg.

At the time of the ban he said it was a health preventive measure to cope with worsening levels of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart and kidney failure.

The USA Poultry and Egg Export Council welcomed the end on the ban, telling Bloomberg that it was the "consumers' right to determine what foods they wish to consume, not the government's."

WTO critics claim the Washington based International Food and Beverage Alliance, formed by Kraft, Coca-Cola and General Mills, is behind the pressure to end food type bans.

"This is not true," spokeswoman Jane Reid said.

"(The Alliance) has had no involvement whatsoever in this issue."

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A 2009 paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal on New Zealand's impact on Pacific health says "many researchers have reported that excess consumption of imported food, especially imported fatty meats, has a causative relationship with endemic obesity in the Pacific….

"Some Pacific nations have attempted to reduce high fat imports under domestic law. Fiji banned mutton flap imports in 2000 and New Zealand responded by threatening to refer the issue to the WTO."

Professor Wilson, who co-authored the study, says with the lifting of the ban on turkey tails, Samoa could supplement its own soft drink tax with a hefty tax on foods that are high in saturated fat - such as turkey tails from America and mutton flaps from New Zealand.

He says the evidence favours such taxes as seen in a recent study of soft drink taxes in Samoa, Fiji, Nauru and French Polynesia.

"Such taxes can also provide revenue to fund health and social services."

- Auckland Now

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