The Public Service Association is warning that a contamination scare threatening Australian meat exports could be repeated in New Zealand once export meat companies start inspecting their own meat.
An investigation is currently underway in Australia after revelations that up to 13 separate shipments of meat have been rejected by the United States due to either faecal or e-coli contamination.
Last year Australia introduced a more self-regulatory meat inspection system for meat companies and lessened what had been a high level of government oversight.
New Zealand is moving in the same direction.
The Ministry for Primary Industries is pushing ahead with plans to transfer the role of meat inspection from independent government officials working for AsureQuality to the meat companies themselves. The new system will be operating in six plants later this year.
"All our concerns about what can happen when companies are responsible for their own inspection are being played out in Australia at the moment," says PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff.
"You have a situation where consumers are being put at risk from dangerous contaminants which have slipped through undetected and a very valuable meat export industry which could be brought to its knees if its main trading partners lose confidence in it. This is exactly the sort of situation our meat inspectors have been warning against."
Independent meat inspectors are focussed on food safety and pull potentially contaminated and diseased meat from the production line.
Richard Wagstaff says once that role is shifted to meat companies that food safety focus will diminish.
"A self-policing meat inspection model is a nonsense as meat companies are largely driven by production targets and profit. It completely undermines any notion of food safety and quality control."
"We would hope officials here are watching what is happening across the Tasman very closely and conclude that New Zealand has too much to lose by introducing a self-regulating meat inspection regime," he says.
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