Nicola Grigg, National Party associate agriculture spokesperson
For a fairly new MP, who went to Wellington primarily to represent the farming sector, it’s been a really exciting few months pulling together the National Party’s policy proposals for New Zealand’s world class agricultural industry
We announced the first tranche of these policies in mid-April and have another two to come.
In declaring some fairly sweeping changes to farm regulations aimed at peeling back the mountain of red tape that has buried farmers for the past five years, I hope the industry will see their voices reflected in our proposals.
I’ve always been of the view that policy should be designed from the grassroots up – for it is, after all, our grassroots farmers and growers who will be the end “users” of these policies. For that, I am grateful to the hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve had contact with over the past two years who’ve fed back to us what works – and what doesn’t.
National’s Getting back to Farming package makes 19 changes to rules and regulations that have choked the industry, caused monumental anxiety and, in many instances, actually created regressive outcomes.
These changes will help farmers get on with earning the income on which their livelihoods, New Zealand’s economy, and New Zealanders’ standard of living, depend.
This is about using targeted rules with clear environmental limits so farmers can work with confidence.
We have also committed to restarting live cattle exports – but with the strictest regulations in place to ensure world class animal welfare standards. We will take an evidential approach to the welfare of our animals, based on scientifically backed best practice.
Much has been made by advocates of the sector of the need to implement a gold standard, which Australian exporters have led the way in creating. Developed in 2020, the gold standard is a 12-point regulation framework that is performance-based, demanding that all potential exporters and importers are licensed by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
At its heart is the assurance of good physical and mental health in animals, including good nutrition and freedom from stress.
Welfare standards have not previously been enshrined in legislation. Previously, both MPI and exporters have relied on guidelines rather than strict statutory criteria.
In mid-April I boarded the last ship to leave Napier, the MV Gelbray Express, to see for myself what best in class looks like.
This was a $100 million, custom-built ship and it has me more convinced than ever that, with the right regulations in place, NZ can lead the world in the safe, humane transfer of animals.
I saw for myself the state-of-the-art pens, drainage, water, feed and air-conditioning systems. I saw calm, relaxed animals sitting comfortably in sawdust beds. I spent time with the vets and stock handlers to understand what the daily checks and routines consist of.
Throughout the voyage to China I was sent the daily updates and photos and saw no sign of animal distress, heat stress, injury, humidity or high ammonia levels.
If we form the next government these custom-built ships will be the only ships that will receive licensing or certification to transfer our animals.
I also want New Zealanders to understand that we will license and, importantly, audit importers and offshore farms to NZ animal welfare standards. This will provide everyone the comfort of knowing our animals live a good life, for their whole life. We will ensure a further overlay with an international accreditation agency like Quality Assure carrying out final certifications.
So now I say to the industry: your move.
In my view it is up to the industry itself to prove its merit, open itself up to the public and earn its social licence to operate.
There is only so much governments can legislate for.
I have listened to the feedback and I have acted on it – the rest is on the shoulders of those who seek to continue this trade. Much like the dairy industry, which has opened up its farm gates, so too must the quarantine facilities, the trucking companies and the shipping operators themselves – not to mention the destination farms – to prove to New Zealanders there are world class systems and facilities.
NZ can and will lead the way in this industry.
A National government will support the sector to set the standard for global best practice – but it needs to earn that reputation for itself.