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Partnership to protect food gathering grounds

Friday, 4 July 2003

Partnership needed to protect Maori traditional food gathering grounds

The Public Health Advisory Committee is calling for regional councils, public health and iwi to work in partnership to protect Maori traditional food gathering grounds.

In a keynote address to the Public Health Association conference in Ngaruawahia today, committee spokesperson Dr Cindy Kiro says there is an urgent need to protect kai moana, which many Maori depend on as a traditional food source.

Dr Kiro says one of the problems is a lack of national guidelines or perspectives on the contamination of aquatic food-gathering areas. Some local authorities carry out limited monitoring of shellfish and watercress gathering areas but no data is collected nationally, she says.

"Hepatitis A outbreaks associated with contaminated shellfish are common and there is potential for diseases like cholera, which survives in seawater, to be brought in to areas like Northland where there is a high number of visitors."

The Public Health Advisory Committee says new local government legislation means there are real opportunities for local government to work with iwi and public health to identify potential problem areas, and manage them to protect the public health.

She says an example is the Ministry for the Environment working in partnership with different hapu and iwi to develop tools to measure the effect of the environment on health. These tools are relevant and important to Maori and meet different tribal expectations. One partnership between the ministry, Ngai Tahu and the University of Otago is developing ways of measuring the health of a waterway. The Cultural Health Index is being used in the Taieri waterways but may have wider application.

In her address, Dr Kiro points out damage to the environment has the potential to have a significant effect on Maori health. For example poor surface and ground water quality in wetland areas where watercress and flax are gathered creates potential risks to health. Eeling is another activity where water quality may affect health.

ENDS

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