Meat plants vulnerable

Water management limits could prove prohibitive. Photo supplied.
Water management limits could prove prohibitive. Photo supplied.
Some meat plants could be closed if the cost of upgrading to meet new water management limits proves prohibitive, the Meat Industry Association (MIA) is warning.

In a recently-released document, MIA, a voluntary trade association representing meat processors and exporters, has highlighted various ways in which the Government could assist the red meat industry to ''thrive''.

When it came to the environment, it could help by giving sufficient time for the industry to respond to changes in water management regimes.

Its water discharges were already consented activities under council plans.

In some cases, the cost of upgrading to meet new limits might be prohibitive, potentially closing plants and costing jobs, if not managed properly.

Receiving early signals would help companies adjust investment decisions, the MIA said.

It has also suggested economic development be included as a ''national value'' that had to be considered in water management.

While the industry was highly supportive of improving water quality, it was important to recognise it had an economic, as well as environmental, value.

Both needed to be considered when communities decided on their desired ''values'' for water.

It was also imperative that central Government ensured a consistent, scientific basis for regional plans.

The industry had operations all over New Zealand and was aware of the inconsistency in water management regimes applied by regional councils.

The MIA said it was in the country's best interests to have a profitable sheep and beef sector.

The meat industry had continued to innovate and drive good export and revenue growth in recent years.

The sector had struggled to be consistently profitable due to challenges ranging from increasing market access costs, through to the high New Zealand dollar.

Rising dairy returns continued to drive conversions away from sheep and beef farms.

In the face of environmental, regulatory and land-use challenges, it was ''imperative'' central government and industry worked together to maximise the sector's overall return to New Zealand.

The MIA highlighted five policy areas: workforce, regulation, environment, innovation and trade, and suggested ways the Government could help.

Other suggestions included establishing a long-term innovation investment strategy integrating the needs of key export industries, developing a government funding programme specifically for research in the food safety area, and committing to continue co-funding industry research programmes.

The Government needed to continue an aggressive Free Trade Agreement agenda, not accepting less than comprehensive access and and ensuring non-tariff provisions had ''teeth''.

The meat industry was increasingly forced to cater, at high cost, to markets' prescriptive, non-scientific demands.

Central government, working with industry, should use the short supply of protein worldwide to motivate key importing countries to recognise New Zealand's ''excellent'' meat production regulatory system.

The fourth red meat sector conference will be held in Wellington on July 28.

Speakers include Mary Boyd, corporate network director of the Economist Intelligence Unit in China, who will provide insights into opportunities in China; Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright, who will focus on the sector's environmental responsibilities; and the Agri-Women's Development Trust executive director, Lindy Nelson.

Political commentator Colin James will share his insights into what the political landscape was likely to look like after the September election, and who the sheep and beef sector needed to influence to ''create the best environment for doing business''.

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