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Sutton - Meat Industry Training Organisation

11 March 2005

Hon Jim Sutton: Retail Meat NZ and Retail Meat Industry Training Organisation

joint annual meeting

Wellington Ladies and Gentlemen, Prime Minister Helen Clark apologises for not being able to be here with you today. She asked me to come here, and to pass on her and the Government's thanks and appreciation of the work you do.

Meat was our first export industry, and it has a proud history here in New Zealand. Meat eating is part of our national tradition, and our butchers have served us well over the years.

That does not mean that things stand still.

The media recently ran a series of stories about traceability of food products, culminating in one about South Korea where you can buy a cut of meat, and scan a DNA barcode to find out information about the animal you're eating.

This move towards animal identification and traceability from farm to retail outlet is not just some cute Asian fad.

International trends have been for increasing use of animal identification systems, many incorporating radio frequency devices, and the maintenance of electronic databases to enable fast trace back of value for biosecurity, food safety and other commercial purposes.

In New Zealand, we have no national animal identification system for livestock.

We do have several ad hoc animal identification and traceability systems in place, but they are often manual, or, if electronic, the information cannot be readily shared.

Internal demand for identification systems has been growing.

One concern has been that, while New Zealand can provide adequate information on animals, the international demand for more stringent systems is growing, based on a concept of "farm to fork". Major trading partners, including Australia, the United States, Japan, Canada and countries in the European Union have, or are in the process of implementing, animal identification systems, with the requirements for these to become mandatory across livestock sectors.

In New Zealand, the view is that we need to invest in similar systems of animal identification.

The Government supports this, though it is the industry driving it. We run huge market risks if we lag behind. On the other hand, the more study we complete before we act, the more effective and efficient the system we will adopt.

An animal identification working group, chaired by Jeff Grant of Meat and Wool New Zealand, has been set up with representatives of the cattle, deer and meat processing sectors, Federated Farmers, MAF and NZFSA.

The working group is now ready to consult with its wider membership and to draw in the other animal livestock sectors. Between now and end of July 2005 it is proposed, following consultation, to develop a business case outlining the preferred option for developing a national livestock identification system.

Your sector will have an interest in this, because you are the cutting edge with consumers.

The Government has recognised the importance of the wider sector you are part of, and have started what we call engagement with the food and beverage sector. I know there are some who think this is about time.

The Food and Beverage sector, of which you are all part, already makes a huge contribution to New Zealand's economic performance. There are again some who have commented that it is a breakthrough to have government officials recognize this - which is a bit harsh. This government has long seen the primary industry sector as critical to the future of our nation.

The Government also believes your sector has huge potential for further growth and this is one of the reasons why we have decided to launch a whole-of-government engagement with the Food and Beverage sector.

A Taskforce of twenty leaders from the food and beverage sectors, representing the full array of food and beverage interests including meat has been set up.

The Taskforce is still in the process of determining how it intends to tackle its mission although it is likely that it will establish working groups (comprising sector representatives and officials) to tackle the key issues it has identified. For example, some of the issues or topics that the Taskforce may address include:

- Skills and labour
- Improving coordination across the sector
- Making the most of the opportunities presented by new free-trade agreements
- Business compliance costs
- Developing strategic alliances
- A New Zealand Food Week
- Making the most of the New Zealand brand (beyond clean and green?)
- Which mind-numbingly dull jobs can be eliminated by new technology?

I would like to encourage all of you to monitor developments and take advantage of every opportunity that you have to contribute to or comment on the taskforce¡¦s activities because the engagement process presents a unique opportunity for industry and government to work together in order to realize the sector¡¦s full economic potential.

For example, one of the key challenges facing all parts of the food and beverage sector is how to attract and retain skilled workers.

The Meat Industry Training Organisation is already undertaking important work in this area and the engagement process provides a vehicle through which the retail meat association can share its experience of what works and what doesn't in terms of industry training programmes; and help the relevant government departments deepen their understanding of the human capital problems facing the sector.

Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you again for the opportunity to be here today ¡V I have a confession to make. I used to be a partner in a butcher¡¦s shop, in Waimate. Unfortunately, not a thriving one. But it has given me an insight into your business. Like most farmers, I had regarded meat retail as a licence to print money until I actually tried it!

I have the utmost respect for your work. I commend you to maintain your standards in the future, and I am delighted to declare this conference open.

ENDS

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