Birds like the native kereru shouldn't be eaten to the brink of extinction like Maori ate moa, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says.
Her comment follows a report late yesterday three government ministers – Amy Adams, Nathan Guy and Tariana Turia – were served the protected bird mixed with chicken at an iwi leaders' hui in 2013.
A spokesman for Maungarongo Marae near Ohakune, which apparently served the birds, said because the dead birds were given to them by the Department of Conservation (DOC), they thought it was fine to dish up.
However, DOC says birds, including kereru, which are found dead and given to them are sometimes transferred to local iwi for cultural use such as using the feathers or bones. It is not aware of any requests to eat them, and says if there were the department would oppose it on food safety grounds.
Ms Barry says the 2013 meal would have been served out of "wilful or deliberate ignorance".
"It is not appropriate to eat threatened species fullstop."
When asked why the flesh of the bird shouldn't be eaten she replied: "When was the last time you ate road kill? Why would you? It's not what you do."
She hadn't had any requests to change the law protecting kereru, in place since 1912, despite Maori still consuming them.
"Maori ate moa as well. We don't want to eat birds to the brink of extinction that is not appropriate in this day and age."
Ms Barry was "pretty certain" she'd never eaten the bird knowingly or not. She expected guests at the dinner would "not be served a protected species under the guise of a chicken dish".
Ms Adams "had no idea" whether she ate the bird because the meal was two years ago.
"I'm not responsible for what they served, I have no idea what they served. If I had been advised it was kereru I wouldn't have eaten it and to the best of my knowledge I haven't eaten it," she said today.
Labour MP Louisa Wall says the issue should be investigated and used to "start a conversation" about whether the bird should be eaten for ceremonial occasions.
But she's against the idea of it being on the menu.
"I don't think there is any justification if the law says we shouldn't [eat it] based on it being a taonga and it being scarce."
Prime Minister John Key said yesterday at his post-Cabinet press conference the ministers would've been unaware the bird might have ended up on their plates.
The bird has been in the headlines since Northland iwi leader Sonny Tau was caught allegedly taking five dead kereru from Invercargill. He has since apologised for his actions, but still faces court action.