Pacific Scoop

Fatty meat imports issue at Pacific forum boosts local food focus

Gatoloaifaana Amataga Alesana-Gidlow

Samoa’s Gatoloaifaana Amataga Alesana-Gidlow … seeks a NZ ban on fatty meat exports to the Pacific. Image: IISD

At last month’s Pacific parliamentary forum in Wellington, delegates from around the region called for New Zealand to stop exporting fatty meat to the Pacific. The fatty offcuts being exported have been partially blamed for the rise of non-communicable diseases in the Pacific. But Holly Ryan reports for Asia-Pacific Journalism on other concerns.

Pacific Scoop:
Backgrounder – By Holly Ryan

While non-communicable diseases in the Pacific have been on the rise over the last few decades and are partially blamed on the dumping of cheap, fatty food in the region, shortages of healthy locally grown foods are also a problem.

Fatty food supplies from New Zealand again faced controversy at last month’s Pacific Parliamentary and Politics Forum with calls for such exports to be banned.

“All we can do is keep reminding the government and ministries to not back off and to keep pushing for change,” says Cook Islands Democratic Party MP Selina Napa, who was among those at the forum.

APJlogo72_iconShe says change needs to come from within government when tackling these issues.

“In the Cook Islands, there is a very heavy reliance on imports from New Zealand, but little is being done to change this.”

While Napa would like to see greater reliance on locally grown food, she also does not take issue with New Zealand’s meat exports, saying it is up to the people themselves to choose what they consume.

“People have a choice. They can buy New Zealand imported meat or they can buy locally grown meat. We are all given a choice.”

Health problems
Non-communicable diseases – which include cardiovascular problems, diabetes and hypertension – have been diagnosed in as much as 40 percent of the total Pacific island nation population of over 10 million.

These also account for three quarters of deaths in the Pacific and 40 to 60 percent of health costs, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2000.

These diseases are a byproduct of the main issue in the Pacific, which is a gradual transition in many countries from the traditional diet and way of life, to a Western diet based on fatty imported foods.

WHO nutritional and physical activity officer Dr Temo Waqanivalu, who previously worked for the Fiji Ministry of Health, believes the change has occurred simply as part of development.

However, it is also the ease of buying imported, but often much less nutritional and healthy, foods.

“There is a preference for these processed foods and part of this is the ease of preparation. We are trying to encourage people to grow their own food and rely less on imported food.”

NZ imports
New Zealand and Australia have traditionally been the largest exporters to the Pacific.

New Zealand has exported mostly dairy and meat products and in particular, meat offcuts.

According to Samoa’s Associate Minister of Women, Community and Social Development, Gatoloaifaana Amataga Alesana-Gidlow, these offcuts are not good enough to be sold in New Zealand and so are instead exported to the Pacific.

It is this fatty substandard meat, which is adding to health issues in the Pacific, says Gatoloaifaana, a former health minister.

At the Pacific parliamentary forum in Wellington April 18-22, Gatoloaifaana called for New Zealand to stop sending these fatty off cuts to the Pacific.

“Obesity is one of the main causes of crippling citizens. Fatty foods lead to this. We ask New Zealand to stop exporting your fatty products to your poor and less-developed Pacific friends.”

Unhealthy lifestyles
During the debate, several of the representatives spoke of their own experiences with imported foods contributing to unhealthy lifestyles in the Pacific.

Samoa’s Parliamentary Undersecretary for the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, Tofa Sooalo Mene, spoke of an increasing Samoan reliance on imported foods.

“We are big importers. More than 80 percent of what we consume in Samoa is imported.”

In 2009, the former New Zealand Labour government rejected recommendations to ban the export of mutton flaps and other fatty meat due to free trade commitments.

Earlier, Fiji banned the sale of mutton flaps in 2000 and Tonga had been considering it.

Gatoloaifaana says this is still not enough to make a change and wants the New Zealand government to step up and ban these exports to the Pacific.

“What do we prioritise – health or wealth?” she asked the forum.

Reliance on imports
In a case study of the Pacific Islands in 2002, by Margaret B. Malua, a senior consultant for KVA Consultant Ltd, found that according to a 1999 census, Samoa was producing between 700 and 900 tonnes of beef each year.

On top of this, Samoa was importing between 900 and 1000 tonnes of beef and a further 8000 tonnes of other meat products, generally poorer quality off cuts.

It is estimated that these imports have increased by 0.5 to 1.5 percent each year.

According to Statistics New Zealand, in 2012, the export of meat and edible meat offal products from New Zealand to 13 countries in the Pacific had increased by more than $38,000. This represented an increase of 9.4 percent over the year.

The Pacific population has increased steadily over the last decade from 8 million in 2000 to 10 million in 2011 and is projected to reach 15 million by 2035, according to data provided to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community by its 22 members.

The Pacific Solution Exchange group (PSE) which is facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by AusAID was set up to discuss issues in the Pacific and draws on information and experience from a wide array of sources.

It found that natural disasters had a much larger effect long term on food consumption.

There is a tendency following a natural disaster where food crops are damaged, to rely on temporary food sources such as imported rice and canned food.

However, members of the PSE say that this “becomes a habit and before realising it, this is now a way of life”.

According to locals involved in the project, this continued reliance on imported food has meant a loss of traditional knowledge and farming practices, and has contributed to a less active lifestyle.

Local food production
Kamilo ‘Ali is the Pacific livelihoods programme officer for Oxfam New Zealand, and works with partners in Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu helping communities grow more of their own food and decrease reliance on imported food.

He believes one of the main factors is the availability and price of imported food.

“At the moment in Tonga, imported food is readily available and because there are not enough local veges and meat, people are instead buying fatty unhealthy food that is often quite cheap.”

In an attempt to combat the consumption of imported foods and try to increase reliance on traditional and local foods, several funds and organisations have been set up in the Pacific, including the PSE.

Organisations such as Oxfam, Carefund and Fair Trade have also been heavily involved in trying to increase locally sourced food consumption.

Several companies in New Zealand which rely on local food in the Pacific for exports have also contributed to increased farming in the Pacific.

Exports such as bananas and coconut products in particular have become popular in the West in recent years.

Heavily involved
All Good Organics is one company heavily involved in farming for export from the  Pacific.

Recently named one of the world’s most ethical companies by New York-based Ethisphere Institute, this company has been working in Samoa since 2008 in collaboration with the Women in Business Development group (a non-profit organisation that works with 250 small scale farmers in Samoa).

Chris Morrison, one of the founders of All Good Organics, says the company was keen to develop business with New Zealand’s neighbours and the Pacific.

“This is a great opportunity to get back to growing local food and growing for export rather than importing,” he says.

All Good Organics has worked in Samoa towards sourcing organic and fair trade bananas as well as coconut milk supplies from a group of coconut growers with fair trade certification.

Holly Ryan is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies (Journalism) student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.

‘Hypocritical’ NZ told to stop fatty food exports to Pacific