Cheap fatty meat blamed for Pacific diabetes epidemic

Health specialists say sugary food as well as fatty meat from New Zealand are contributing to a diabetes epidemic in the Pacific.

There are calls for price controls on widely available processed products in the Pacific.

The foods include high-fat Kiwi corned beef, biscuits and sugary soda.

Imported processed food inundate supermarket shelves in the Pacific, while junk food adverts even appear at school.

"There's a consensus here that there's a crisis when it comes to non-communicable diseases as a result of poor diet in the Pacific Islands," Associate Professor Dr Jacqui Webster, from the George Institute For Global Health, told Newshub.

Many Type 2 diabetes patients end up in surgery to remove cataracts after losing their vision.

Nine patients were on the list when Newshub visited, all suffering from some form of blindness caused by either old age, diabetes of exposure to UV light.

A change in diet and a lack of exercise is contributing to the diabetes crisis.

Cheap fatty meat from New Zealand, like mutton flaps, is considered part of the problem.

"Why would we do it? Why would we export to other countries food that no New Zealander in their right mind would eat?" Andrew Bell, executive director of the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, told Newshub.

"It doesn't seem to make any sense."

Most of New Zealand's fatty meat goes to China - more than 38,000 tonnes last year.

Samoa tops the list of Pacific countries, receiving 459 tonnes of Kiwi mutton flaps and breast meat, following by Papua New Guinea (371 tonnes), and American Samoa (159 tonnes).

The Solomon Islands, Nuie and Tonga got about two tonnes each last year.

"So New Zealand Government and Australian Government, who are so generous giving financial support through aid to Pacific Island countries - it's in their best interests to actually start addressing some of these economic issues as well," Mr Bell said.

Dr Webster said it shouldn't be happening.

"There's no justification for making our own food healthier and then exporting less healthy foods."

But exporters say only a fraction of meat sent to the Pacific is mutton flaps.

"Only about 13 percent are these types of cuts," said Dave Harrison, Beef and Lamb's general manager of policy and advocacy.

"Most of what we're sending there are higher value cuts that are going into the restaurants and going into the food trade up there."

However the food trade is changing in the Pacific, with fewer people relying on traditional produce and more converging on urban centres.

Dr Webster, who has a PhD in public health, said regulation is essential.

"We need to look at different ways that we can manipulate prices of foods so that the healthier choices are more affordable for people."

The Fred Hollows Foundation said its clinics are inundated and there must be behaviour change - starting with the youngest generation.

Visit to help Fred Hollows Foundation and the work they're doing throughout the Pacific.