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A judicial review by the Wellington High Court may allow the world’s worst pig disease to destroy New Zealand’s $1 billion pork industry.
The sector will need to “carefully consider” the court's decision in a case brought by NZPork asking for a review of the Ministry of Primary Industry’s (MPI) proposed import health standards for pigmeat.
A decision handed down on Friday does not support NZPork’s challenge of new import health standards. It had been referred to the court in August.
“It is crucial the industry’s concerns are addressed, and NZPork now needs to carefully and fully review the judgment,” chairman Ian Carter says.
“Allowing imports of potentially diseased meat could put our broader primary industry at risk.
"It would be taking a gamble that our farmers cannot afford to lose.
"Biosecurity is key to New Zealand’s economic security, and we risk it at our peril," Mr Carter says.
A group of worried producers last Tuesday MP Shane Ardern, chairman of the Primary Production Select Committee, to express their concerns.
They are fighting to stop the relaxation of import rules which could see the Porcine Reproductive Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) established.
The commercially devastating disease has been described as the industry as its “No 1 enemy”.
New Zealand is one of the few countries which have had no reported cases.
Under the proposed standards, restaurants would be able to import meat, which could be infected, provided it weighs less than 3kg.
The industry is concerned about the “very real risk” thousands of pigs kept outside commercial pig farms may be infected as they are often fed scraps directly from restaurant kitchens and local food outlets.
Although the disease does not affect humans, birds are carriers and could spread the infection to commercial pig farms.
Any imported PRRS infected meat is heat treated at one of New Zealand's 27 transitional facilities before it is sold.
The disease, which is rife in the United States, costs the pork industry there $US 1 billion a year.
Last week's visit Parliament, the industry's sixth, is yet another step in a long and protracted process with the Ministry of Primary Industries, formerly the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Producers say they want to protect their industry from disease and not competition.
Almost 800,000kg of pork is imported weekly under current rules.
In August 2009 the minsitry's director-general agreed to an independent review of provisional import health standards for pig meat and pig meat products after a request by NZPork.
While the independent panel’s 29 recommendations confirmed NZPork's concerns, few of these have been acted on by the ministry.
It says the risk of introducing PPRS will be “effectively managed through the application of the measures in the Import Health Standards”.
Modelling work shows removal of lymph nodes and restricting fresh meat imposts to consumer-ready cuts weighing no more than 3kg effectively manages the disease risk.
However, the decision to relax import rules seems to contradict the ministry’s concerns over biosecurity.
It estimates the direct annual output losses from pest management at $1.15 billion, while the combined cost of PSA, varroa and the tomato/ potato Pysllid is estimated to add at least $ 500 million in direct and indirect costs.
A KPMG report released this week says the tomato-potato Psyllid is also taking a toll on the tamarillo crop.
The Tamarillo Growers Association says that since its arrival the annual crop has been reduced by almost two-thirds to 260 tonnes, which has had a significant impact on the industry.
While MPI estimates the short-term financial impact of PRRS would cost tens of millions of dollars, the industry says that for every 1000 tonnes of lost pork production, $7.3 million will be lost from the wider economy.
The industry wants an inquiry into why the ministry wants to risk exposing the industry to such a devastating disease and has also met opposition parties to express its concerns.
“Bad policy is a gamble New Zealand farmers and its economy cannot afford to lose,” the group says in its submission to parliamentarians.
The High Court decision is a blow to the industry’s efforts.