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Jim Sutton Speaks To Poultry Broiler Nutritionists

Hon Jim Sutton Speech

2nd International Poultry Broiler Nutritionists' Conference, Dynasty Heritage Hotel, Rotorua

Ladies and Gentlemen: welcome to New Zealand. I see this international conference as very important. Together, you all work with more than half the world's chicken meat production. This conference is a useful way for you to get to get together to discuss the vital role you all play in working out the diet for chickens.

That is no simple task.

There is a joke flying around New Zealand at the moment - bear with me if you've heard it already.

A young man inherits a parrot from his great-uncle. It's an unruly bird, cursing and squawking at the top of its lungs. After numerous complaints from the neighbours, the young man is at his wits end and when the parrot lets out a almighty squawk, he grabs it and shoves it in the freezer. Five minutes later, he retrieves his calm and pulls the parrot out of the freezer. The parrot is chastened, sits quietly, and then apologises for its bad behaviour. "I just have one little question" the bird says "what did the chicken do?"

That question is something consumers around the world are asking too ? what did the chicken do? What did it eat? Was it fed hormones or antibiotics? Was it caged or free range?

Here in New Zealand, our industry is grappling with the issues of animal welfare and consumer concerns.

It is not unknown for factories to be picketed by demonstrators concerned at what the chickens inside have been eating.

New Zealand might be a small country, far away from the hot spots of the world, but the issues facing the chicken industry here are the same.

In the poultry broiler industry here, fertile hatching eggs are imported from England and Scotland. The imported eggs are hatched at company-owned quarantine farms under Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry supervision.

Once nine weeks old, the birds are transferred to breeding farms. These birds, the grandparent breeders, produce the parent stock. The parent stock is raised on non-quarantine breeder farms. The third generation produces the chicken flock for meat consumption - the broiler chickens!

There are 70 million broiler chickens raised in New Zealand each year ? that's almost 20 for each person!

For the first time ever, chicken consumption in New Zealand has matched that of beef. New Zealanders - traditionally a red meat-eating population have turned to chicken as a versatile, tender, and more convienient meat.

Figures published last month by the Meat and Wool Economic Service show that both chicken and total poultry consumption reached record levels last year. Chicken consumption increased by 7.6 per cent a head, up to 27.9 kilograms a person, while total poultry consumption was up 7.9 per cent, up to 29.1 kilograms a person. Last year, poultry accounted for 30.6 per cent of total meat consumption.

The poultry meat industry in New Zealand earns almost $500 million in retail sales and provides about 3000 jobs.

The New Zealand commercial poultry flock of chickens, hens, turkeys, and ducks has a unique animal health status, superior to that in other countries.

To retain that status, current quarantine restrictions - based on the World Trade Organisation sanitary and phytosanitary agreement, stop the importation of any fresh or frozen poultry meat, commercial eggs, and livestock. Genetic breeding material is imported as fertile hatching eggs under strict import protocols into MAF-supervised farms.

The main part of the New Zealand commercial poultry industry is in chicken and egg production - as you might expect!

New Zealand has about 560,000 breeding hens and about 50,000 roosters, supplying day-old chick replacements to both the meat and egg industries. Last year, this sector produced 67 million broiler chickens and 68 million dozen eggs.

Because of the value and benefits of maintaining the national flock's health status, strict biosecurity measures are maintained at all levels of production.

The industry employs its own veterinarians and nutritutionists, with support from independent specialist avian veterinarians.

New Zealand has remained free from the major exotic avian diseases, thanks to a consistent quarantine policy over the past 20 years. Restricting imports of risk material and the development of strict import health standards for the importation of fertile hatching eggs have played a major part in achieving this.

MAF administers and reviews these protocols, as well as the standards for company-owned quarantine farms, in order to address any changing disease situations overseas. The industry veterinarians play an important role in operating and critiquing these protocols.

The New Zealand industry is small in comparison to some operations in other countries. I am told there are nutritionists here today from companies which produce in one week New Zealand's entire poultry meat production.

However, I believe there is much to be proud of in the New Zealand industry, and these features can be a good example for industries in other countries.

The industry here sees that its commitment to maintaining freedom from major diseases provides substantial benefits, both to the welfare of livestock and the quality of the end consumable products. The New Zealand industry does not see the incidence of welfare-related problems that industries overseas report. Freedom from disease is a major factor in ensuring optimum animal welfare and preventing secondary disease challenges - both which can impact on product availability and safety.

That has meant the local industry requires relatively little use of medication and vaccines, compared to industries overseas. Therapeutic medications are rarely required.

This is important, particularly because of the growing consumer concern about what they eat and what the animals they feed off have been eating.

The New Zealand poultry industry is keen to stress it does not use growth-promoting hormones - something which has been a focus for overseas food safety campaigners.

Another area of food safety concern is the use of antibiotics. Use of antibiotics in animals accounts for about 57 per cent of the total of 92.9 tonnes of antibiotics used in New Zealand each year.

MAF is confident that ionophores, which are not used in human medicine, and bacitracin, which is not used extensively in human medicine, are unlikely to cause antibiotic resistance in humans.

However, it does consider there to be two risk areas relating to the development of resistance in bacteria to antibiotics. These are in direct resistance, such as salmonella and campylobacter; and in potential genetic transfer of resistance, from normal bacterial colonists of the animal intestine to bacteria living in the human intestine that might cause disease.

In the view of the Animal Remedies Board, that potential for resistance must be addressed when assessing applications for new licences for antibiotic products. It has also started a review of already approved products for the potential for resistance.

The first four mass medication antimicrobials - fluoroquinolones, avoparcin, virginiamycin, and avilamycin - causing the greates human health concern have recently been reviewed and subjected to the process of catergorisation in line with the board's recommendations. Registered users have responded positively to this.

An area under intense scrutiny at the moment is that of genetic modification of plants and animals. In New Zealand, we are currently holding a Royal Commission into the subject. That is an inquiry at the highest level possible in this country.

The Royal Commission is currently hearing submissions ? you may see stories about those in the media while you're here. It is expected to report about June this year.

Genetic engineering provides opportunities, but also risks for New Zealand. There are diverse and strongly held views across society, both here and overseas, about its commercial use, particularly in animals, plants, and food.

While we are unaware of any commercial releases of genetically modified animals - including poultry - in New Zealand or overseas, the treatment of animal feeds derived from genetic modification has been raised in submissions to the Royal Commission.

The New Zealand broiler industry does use feeds that could be derived from genetically modified grains, such as soyabean meal, and the industry is well aware of consumer concerns.

Many of the fears consumers have about their food and what the animals they eat have been eating may seem unfounded to you.

But in a world increasingly driven by consumer preferences, we must all - as food producers and as nations dependent on trade in food ? take note of those concerns. There is no point in producing food that people don't want to buy and don't want to eat. The customer, it has always been said, is always right. I would add, even when he or she is wrong.

In closing, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to congratulate you on holding this conference. Broiler poultry nutritution is an important area, and one that is likely to become more important as consumer concerns about food and animal welfare increase.

I wish you all the best for a successful conference.


Office of Hon Jim Sutton

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