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120th Anniversary Of Frozen Meat Exports

Jim Sutton Speech On 120th Anniversary Of Frozen Meat Exports

120th anniversary of NZ’s first frozen meat exports, Totara Estate, Oamaru

Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you for the invitation to speak today.

This commemorates a truly historic occasion. One that made our country great. It’s appropriate for me to be here today, because this week, the Prime Minister launched the Innovation Strategy.

The refrigeration of meat for export was the innovation leap that provided the base for what our country has become. Today, we’re looking for a similar leap in innovation.

For something so significant to all New Zealanders, many of us don’t know what happened here 120 years ago.

It was from Totara Estate that the animals for that first shipment of refrigerated meat came from. That shipment left Port Chalmers on the ship Dunedin 120 years ago today, and arrived in London 98 days later. The 4311 sheep and 598 lamb carcases on board made it to London’s Smithfield Market, in condition that meatworkers there described as “perfect as frozen meat could be”.

The meat sold in a fortnight at nett prices of twice that which it could have sold for in New Zealand - in total, about $8000.

For an investment of one thousand pounds, a huge breakthrough was made.

In a special editorial on the voyage, the Times of London described it “as a feat which must have a place in commercial - indeed in political - annals”.

As then-Governor General Sir David Beattie said 20 years ago at the Totara Station centenary: “In the long run, refrigeration brought prosperity. It helped to pay for New Zealand as we have known it, for our social order, our way of life, our security. All this happened because men of visiion saw possibilities and made them work”.

And precious the frozen carcases were too. Those 5,000 dead sheep, and a little butter, (we’d better not forget the butter) rapidly built up into 100,000 tonnes of meat and dairy products within 20 years, and then trebled again in the next twenty years.

By 1892, 10 years after the Dunedin’s first voyage, 21 freezing works were in operation, exporting 2 million sheep and lamb carcasses worth more than 1 million pounds a year.

Today, we have a meat trade worth more than $4.3 billion. And a dairy trade worth even more than that.

That’s why New Zealand has been described as “living off the sheep’s - and cow’s - back”.

Since the innovation leap of refrigeration, there have been numerous other improvements in the meat trade¡K for example, the focus of our export meat trade is in chilled lamb now, with advances in technology enabling the meat to be sealed in vaccuum packs with the oxygen sucked out and an inert gas pumped in to maintain the meat’s quality.

Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister outlined the Innovation Strategy in her speech to the throne, and a suite of documents set out the framework the Government is working from.

That framework documents a broad consensus that has emerged over the past two years as to what needs to be done to develop New Zealand’s innovative potential.

That consensus says we must continue to strengthen the fundamentals of our economy. We must have an economy able to weather shocks, and to adapt to new challenges. But we must do more than that.

If we are to reverse declining trend in our relative income measures, we must achieve a step change in growth rates.

We must become a nation known internationally for our innovation, our creativity, our skills and our lifestyle.

To do that government is committing to implementing policies with more emphasis on - Enhancing our innovation framework - Developing our skills and talents - Increasing our global connectedness and - Focusing interventions in those areas which can have maximum impact

The Government has chosen to target its innovation initiatives initially in biotechnology, ICT and the creative industries. These are all areas which, if they attain their growth potential, can have a significant influence on the broad scope of the New Zealand economy - the way that refrigeration of our meat exports did.

Biotechnology could have huge benefits for our health and for our primary production sector¡K what some people call “the old economy” and which we are world leaders in and in which we wish to maintain our leading edge.

ICT is another “horizontal” sector we would like to become a world leader in. Similarly, it is an enabling technology capable of adding significant value to many of our industries.

Finally, the creative industries are those which give expression to ourselves as we are and as we would like to be. There are not just painting, potting, and film making. They are about style, flair, and design, and they foster skills and reputation that can help market all our other goods and services.

Obviously, these three sectors are not the only sectors we want to see innovation and growth in. For our country, and our economy, to achieve the way we want it to, innovation must happen across the board.

The government is committed to working with all parts of the economy to help to make that happen.

The process will not be short. We cannot expect to recover our position in per capita income rankings overnight. But we have the potential in New Zealand to succeed and with a determined effort by all players, New Zealand can, and will be, an economic success story.

Totara Estate is a symbol of the innovation we have achieved in the past. I am certain that we can repeat in the near future the magnitude of innovation leap that was achieved here 120 years ago.

Thank you.

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