Incoming NZPork chief executive Brent Kleiss says those responsible for the pig code of welfare review need to get a deeper understanding of the NZ pig industry that is based on actual animal welfare science.
Brent Kleiss has long had a leaning for a leadership role, with his appointment to the helm of New Zealand Pork bringing new young blood to the industry body. He talked with Annette Scott.
At just 35 years of age, the appointment as the new chief executive of NZPork fulfils a career goal for incoming chief executive Brent Kleiss.
Kleiss, who joined NZPork as policy manager in July 2021, brings widespread experience in the primary sector as he steps up to head the statutory industry body working to support NZ’s commercial pig farmers.
“I have always had a leaning to leadership roles where responsibility for what you do can influence others,” Kleiss said.
He steps up as a next generation leader keen to keep the industry on track, as he aims to attract the next generation of pork producers into the sector.
“When the role came up, I knew there was a good team in place and I thought that’s my team, that’s the opportunity I want,” he said.
With less than 100 commercial farmers nationally, the pork industry’s critical mass to operate becomes a factor.
“We don’t know quite where that threshold is but it’s a concern,” he said.
“We are a livestock sector with unique pressures and challenges that other livestock sectors don’t have.
“But we are a tight knit industry and that is good in a lot of ways, but being a much smaller sector, we have less resources, flexibility and adaptability.
“I’ve already met a lot of our farmers and it’s clear to me how much they care about their animals, their products and their communities.
“We have good farmers who can tell the industry story and if we are on a level playing field, we are hopeful the pig industry can continue to be a thriving industry in NZ for years to come.
“I’m also proud of the opportunity to lead the great team at NZPork.”
Kleiss is keen to ensure that level playing field can prevail for the industry.
One of the key challenges derives from imports with more than 60% of pork consumed in NZ being imported product coming from Germany, Poland, Australia, Canada, Spain, the US and Finland.
“The big challenge here is imports consistently provide a product that compares to NZ-produced (in nature and in label), but using practices illegal in NZ, at a much lesser cost and often misleading presented as NZ made,” he said.
“NZ is beholding to some of the highest animal welfare standards and environmental regulations in the world and that makes our product a whole lot more expensive than imports coming from much lesser standards.”
That is the unlevel playing field NZPork is gunning to address in the current government review of the pig code of welfare.
“We want to be sure we are competing with equality of standards, that is the same standards apply to imports as to those for our NZ farmers and supply chain, so as not to force consumers to choose imported products,” he said.
“By allowing imports of lesser standards to play on the same field with lesser rules, the consumers are encouraged to procure these lesser cost products over NZ-produced pork products.
“We are well aware of the need for free trade, however, we argue consumers are changing globally and demanding greater regulation around animal welfare and the environment.
“The time is fast approaching where NZ can look to be the leader, back ourselves and stamp our place in the market with what we have here in NZ.
“If others want to compete in our domestic market, they should be doing so under the same high standards as NZ.”
Industry is eagerly anticipating what will come out of the review.
“If what we are hearing is true, the scale of what comes out could be quite shocking,” he said.
Kleiss said some of what is proposed is far removed from where the science lies.
“We encourage the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) to get a deeper understanding of the NZ pig industry that is based on animal welfare science to get a realistic outcome,” he said.
“The pendulum has swung a bit too far, with perception pushing the boundaries of science.
“We will be going hard in the consultation phase.”
Industry is buoyed with the movement in country-of-origin labelling.
“There is still room to move to do better; in the meantime, the bedding in period now is about ensuring 100% NZ-produced pork gets its showing and is unclouded for consumers,” he said.
NZ pig farmers are committed to playing their part to reduce emissions, however, current proposals for pricing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are not equitable for the sector, he said.
“NZ pig farming has a small environmental footprint relative to other parts of the primary production sector, producing 0.2% of agricultural emissions,” he said.
“Although NZPork supports in principle a farm-level pricing scheme as a preferred pricing mechanism, we have significant concerns about the current proposals.
“Emissions from pig farming differ significantly to emissions from pastoral farming because pigs are monogastric, so they naturally produce much lower methane emissions than ruminant animals like cattle or sheep.
“Pig farming systems are also very different to pastoral farming systems and as such, the proposed options are incompatible with pig farming and we believe more work is needed to assess whether a price on emissions is a suitable policy approach for our sector.”
With emissions from pigs set to be priced from 2025, he said the inclusion of pig farming in any pricing system must be contingent on it being fit for purpose, practical and resulting in equitable outcomes for pig farmers.
Prior to NZPork, Kleiss was 13 years with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), most recently as principal advisor stakeholder and industry engagement for public affairs, and roles covering border clearance and biosecurity assurance.
Already a familiar face for many people in the pork industry and the wider primary sector, he has impressed the industry with his skills and strategic insight in a range of areas.
“We look forward to him making a valuable contribution to NZPork, especially as we face significant regulatory reform associated with farrowing crates and mating stalls and the environment,” NZPork chair Eric Roy said.
In his spare time, Kleiss enjoys time with his young family and playing football with Christchurch-based Parklands United.
“We had a good win first up last weekend, so that’s pretty cool heading into the season,”Kleiss said.
He officially takes on the chief executive role on May 2.