Kiwis urged to check country of origin before buying Christmas pork

Kiwis keen to dig into some Christmas ham or bacon this holiday season are being urged to check where their pork comes from, and buy local.

The majority of pork eaten here is imported. And while foreign pork might be cheaper than local options, it often comes from countries lacking New Zealand's animal welfare standards or from areas afflicted by diseases such as African Swine Fever or Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome.

David Baines, chief executive of NZ Pork says Kiwis need to be aware of the origin of their food.

"More than 60 percent of the pork products consumed in New Zealand is imported from overseas, and for cured products such as bacon and ham, it's even higher at up to 85 percent," said Baines.

"We're urging Kiwis to check the packaging of their pork, because if it says 'made in New Zealand with local and imported ingredients', then chances are it is imported."

Baines said buying New Zealand products would not only support local businesses but also give people peace of mind it is produced in an industry that "operates to high welfare standards compared to other countries who have less rigorous health, welfare and environmental regimes".

"Our commercial pig herd also has a high health status and is not affected by the diseases that are having a very serious impact on pork industries in many other countries.

"New Zealand does not import live pigs, but these viruses can enter the country on infected meat. While they are harmless to humans, they could be spread to pigs in the wild or other kinds of farms or lifestyle blocks through infected food scraps – and ultimately be transmitted to the commercial herd."

In order to make it clear for consumers to know where their food comes from, NZ Pork has been advocating for the Government to prioritise country of origin labelling to ensure that all pork imported into New Zealand is clearly labelled.

Laws designed to give people clarity over the origin of the food were passed in 2018, however earlier this year the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said there would be a 12-month delay in the new rules coming into effect.

Last month David Clark, the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. told Newshub officials were "working to finalise the regulations" after disruption caused by COVID-19.

The rules are now set to be finalised by June 2021 and come into effect in December 2021.

Baines said if draft Government regulations for cured pork are confirmed it would mean imported pig meat could be marinated or injected in New Zealand and then appear in supermarket chillers alongside New Zealand pork with no recognition it is produced overseas. The provisions would only require the imported pork to include the name and address of a New Zealand supplier, Baines said.

"That means pork from Spain or the United States would be labelled with its country of origin if presented as 'fresh' (chilled) while the same product, if marinated or infused, would sit alongside NZ Pork and escape the need for labelling as imported."

Although pork here is produced to higher standards than in many parts of the world, animal welfare activists say conditions could be improved for pigs.

A recent High Court decision ruled the continued use of farrowing crates to be "unlawful", and directed the Minister of Agriculture to consider phasing them out.

Mother pigs are put into farrowing crates before and after they give birth, to prevent hem crushing their piglets. 

Animal rights groups have long said the practice is cruel as it doesn't allow pigs to perform their natural behaviour. But the pork industry says they are essential because they protect piglets by making it less likely for them to be crushed by their mother.

Last week the Government confirmed it would phase out the use of farrowing crates and mating stalls in pork farming by 2025.

Although the decision has pleased animal welfare groups, the pork industry has warned it will lead to a "great deal of uncertainty" and could force a large number of New Zealand pig farmers out of business, which would ultimately lead to Kiwis having to rely on more imported pork, produced in worse conditions.