Abattoirs call for monitoring of home-kill meat sector

Licensed abattoirs say trade in "blackmarket meat" is increasingly posing a food safety risk and potentially damaging international perceptions of New Zealand trade.

"The blackmarket meat trade is alive and thriving," Abattoir Association president Lyndon Everton said.

"There is a lack of enforcement placed on backyard butchers and the home-kill industry."

Since amendments were made to the Animal Product Act in 1999, the numbers of registered home-kill operators had increased from 79 to 384, he said.

Federated Farmers' rural butchers section chairman Mike Hanson last month criticised operators he described as untrained cowboys and called for more effort to be put into combating rustlers and backyard blackmarket butchers.

Mr Hanson, an Ashburton retail butcher and a home-kill operator, said rural butchers wanted a concerted effort involving council environmental health inspectors, the NZFSA and police to enforce existing legislation.

Government food safety regulators said at the time that they had not seen any surge in illicit "backyard butchers" and over the past 12 months there had been just three formal complaints directly relating to the sale of home-killed meat.

"This is roughly consistent with previous years," said a spokesman for the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA).

But Mr Everton said the real issue was not whether or not there have been more complaints to NZFSA over home-killed meat but that no one actually knew, definitively, the numbers involved.

There was no data collected from the home-kill industry, he said.

"Home-kill operators, licensed or not, do not pay levies, including those for tuberculosis eradication," he said.

"We estimate that the home kill and backyard butchers process over half a million sheep, cattle and pigs every year. In levies alone, this amounts to over $2 million a year being lost."

Mr Everton, who is based at Carterton in the Wairarapa, told NZPA the concerns were not a matter of "patch protection".

He was less concerned over loss of revenue to processors than he was about the damage that might be done by food safety problems from home-kill meat.

In some cases, people were buying livestock at sales, then lining up to have them slaughtered as home-kill for their own consumption, when the law said they had to have first owned the animals for 28 days.

Abattoirs Association members all had licensed premises where animals were humanely handled and meat was certified by an independent inspector.

The Government should collect data on home-kill activity and ensure all operators were audited for compliance with rules on food safety, humane slaughter, and traceability, said Mr Everton.