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Scrapie Smear Shouldn't Change Style - Sutton

Despite being furious over the incorrect claim alleging New Zealand sheep have scrapie in a pamphlet distributed to all 33.5 million German homes, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton says New Zealand should not take advantage of the European meat crisis by aggressively marketing its meat exports as disease free.

“I won’t be pushing the industry to change the way they promote themselves,” he said this afternoon.

Mr Sutton disagreed with suggestions New Zealand is being too nice in not pressing home the BSE and foot and mouth disease free status of our meat exports, saying that New Zealand receives a lot of goodwill because of its stance.

Mr Sutton said it is impossible to tell what damage the falsehoods in the pamphlet, produced by the German government linked Central Marketing Association of German Agricultural Products (CMA), would do, but said he believed the industry would seek some form of legal redress for lost business.

The pamphlet also said humans can catch scrapie, as they can BSE, which is untrue.

He said that while it is impossible to catch up with a lie, if public awareness is improved some benefit could come of the incident.

The New Zealand Meat Board has said the scrapie claim was probably a mistake, but Mr Sutton maintains the claim, which he called an “outrageous mistruth” was deliberate sabotage.

“Frankly I don’t believe they didn’t know what they were doing … I don’t think sabotage is too strong a word to use,” he said. “If it was a radical green group with ten members I could believe it was just ignorance … an official organisation such as this has a responsibility to rise above this kind of irresponsible populism.”

Mr Sutton said the claims probably stem from sheer desperation at German consumers turning away from local product.

Mr Sutton is due to meet CMA board member and German Farmers’ Union president Gerd Sonnleitner on Wednesday, but is trying to bring the meeting ahead. He says he will push Mr Sonnleitner to get the CMA to take appropriate action.

The CMA has already removed the erroneous information from its web site and help lines.

Meanwhile, cabinet approved extra measures to tighten New Zealand’s border control today, including more sniffer dogs at international airports and new soft-tissue x-ray machines that can identify fruit and meat, at an annual cost of $4.6 million.

Mr Sutton said agriculture is still the backbone of New Zealand’s economy, and said an outbreak of foot and mouth disease would be a shock to the country “far beyond the realms of any previous experience.”

“New Zealand is extremely proud of the safety of our food exports,” he said.

© Scoop Media

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