OPINION: The biggest issue currently facing our industry is environmental policy, writes Beef+Lamb NZ chief executive Sam McIvor.
Peter Burke reports…
Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says having sufficient Halal slaughtermen in NZ’s processing plants is critical to the industry.
About 43% of the country’s meat exports are certified for Muslim consumers. Karapeeva says for the trade to continue, about 140 migrant workers – who are qualified in this area – are needed now. However, with the borders closed and Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and Immigration NZ staff still working through the process of allowing these people into NZ, there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether there will be sufficient Halal butchers in the country for the main processing season.
“This is an immediate issue for us. We are working as hard as we can to advocate with government and have had meetings with ministers and officials,” she told Rural News. “I think they understand the issue, it just seems that their processes are grinding through rather slowly.”
Karapeeva says while there is a shortage of Halal butchers, there is also a wider issue of a general shortage of workers in the sector. She says they are short of 2000 workers across the country and it’s proving very hard to attract people. The industry is putting in place a development plan that will better position the sector and show the attractive options that it offers.
“We feel strongly that our industry offers stable careers that provide for growth and development for workers and provides competitive wages,” she says.
In its annual report, the MIA gives an update on the state of the sector and the threats and opportunities that lie ahead. For example, it says the industry is deeply concerned at the Government’s overall climate change framework and, in particular, its apparent dependence on large scale permanent land conversion from productive sheep and beef pastures to carbon storage on land by planting pine forests.
Karapeeva questions why the agricultural sector should be penalised for its biological emissions, while the fossil fuel emitters seem to be getting off scot free and not taking any responsibility for their own emissions.
“The fossil fuel emitters are looking to buy up land and plant it in forestry to offset their emissions, while not necessarily changing behaviours and actively reducing their emissions,” she explains. “Whereas the ag sector is being asked to reduce its emissions and actually change behaviours.”
MIA also has concerns about the plethora of new regulations that are being thrust on the sector. Karapeeva says while no one is questioning the objectives of the rules, many of these are very prescriptive and are being introduced quickly. She says these should be based on good science and risk management outcomes.
“The point is that companies need flexibility in order to be innovative and grow,” she told Rural News. “We don’t want regulations to be stifling innovation.
“For example, in food safety we want rules that ensure that we retain our credentials and reputation for food safety. What we don’t want is a whole new level of compliance that has unnecessary costs and doesn’t achieve the initial objective.”