The Government's decision to exclude independent butchers from the essential business list during the COVID-19 lockdown will cause an animal welfare crisis in the New Zealand pork sector, says an industry group.
All independent butchers across the country have been classified as non-essential businesses and been forced to close as part of the Alert Level 4 lock-down for COVID-19.
However NZ Pork said the decision would likely result in the sector having no place to house up to 5,000 surplus pigs on farms every week.
"By not being able to sell fresh carcass pigs to the independent butchers and other segments, we will be faced with a significant animal welfare issue," said chief executive of NZ Pork David Baines.
He said there was no capacity to hold surplus pigs on farm.
"Commercial farms typically supply pigs to market on a weekly basis and do not carry spare holding capacity.
"Overcrowding of pigs in pens would quickly constitute a significant welfare issue under the animal welfare code," said Baines.
Wholesalers do not have the capacity to process and freeze the surplus volumes, he said.
Freezing carcasses was also not a complete option to the surplus volume, due to the limited blast freezer and storage capacity.
New Zealand-produced pigs could be offered to manufacturers as a substitute to imported products but NZ Pork said most manufacturers now used imported product and do not operate boning rooms or employ staff to process the additional New Zealand pigs.
"Reduced production capacity due to measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has reduced normal boning room throughputs."
Baines said the closure of independent butchers had eliminated them as a potential part of an alternative boning solution.
"Ultimately, wholesalers and processors will have no option but to leave as many as 5,000 pigs on farm each week and this will result in an animal welfare crisis.
"We believe adding independent butchers and large food retailers to the essential businesses list would be a pragmatic and sensible decision and be consistent with the Government's decision to classify the production and distribution of food as an essential service
"Like dairies, independent butchers can take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19."
NZ Pork had been in talks with Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) about the situation and had been advised the Minister was seriously considering the issue.
"MPI clearly understands the urgency and importance of the issue, but we need a decision from the Government now."
Meanwhile, NZ Pork was encouraging Kiwis to support New Zealand farmers by eating New Zealand-produced pork.
"Approximately 62 per cent of New Zealand's pork consumption is imported with around 85 percent of this imported pork further processed.
"None of the pork imported into New Zealand is from countries whose production practices meet New Zealand's legal requirements in all respects. It's important Kiwis know that by paying a premium for home-grown pork, they're getting a cut above the rest."