A great deal of attention and hand-wringing goes on about the RSE programme as it affects orchardists and veggie growers here in Hawke’s Bay.

In our region, these overseas workers account for about one-third of the harvesting workforce, but there’s seems to be a never-ending battle with government to get the required numbers approved … and approved in a timely manner so that growers can make prudent decisions regarding their businesses, including the provision of accommodation and pastoral care for these workers.

But predictable, reliable access to migrant workers is equally important to the meat processing industry.

Meat processing — think Silver Fern, Progressive Meats, Ovation, Fresh Meats, AFFCO here in Hawke’s Bay — is NZ’s largest manufacturing industry, generating with supporting export activities some $12 billion in income for the country. Beef + Lamb projects total beef, veal and sheepmeat export revenue for the 2020-21 season at $7.39 billion, down about $1 billion from the previous season due to Covid impacts on world economies.

As it turns out, more than 45% of NZ’s red meat exports are ‘halal certified’, destined mainly for the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. In reference to food, it is the dietary standard, as prescribed in the Koran.

By official definition, halal foods are those that are:

1. Free from any component that Muslims are prohibited from consuming according to Islamic law.

2. Processed, made, produced, manufactured and/or stored using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that have been cleansed according to Islamic law.

Offering halal certified products allows Muslim consumers (2 billion on the planet) to be confident that the products they use are in alignment with their culture and beliefs.

The predominant interpretation of the Koran appears to be that only a Muslim man can slaughter the animal. Some interpret that if a ‘Person of the Book’ (Jews or Christians) slaughter the animals following the rest of the halal procedure, the meat is halal as per the Islamic dietary laws.

NZ has about 250 halal processing workers, many of these specialist migrants. Current ‘stand down’ rules may require about a third of these to leave the country next year, a move the Meat Industry Association (MIA) says would cripple the export industry.

Sirma Karapeeva, MIA’s chief executive, tells BayBuzz that amongst the five MIA member meat plants in the region, “the halal resource for those plants is 25 halal slaughterers. Of the 25, 16 are from overseas and will be impacted by the visa requirements.”

She adds, “We are continuing to work with officials to find a permanent solution to this issue. We have been given a small reprieve until June 2021 to help manage the immediate pressure and I remain hopeful that this will allow sufficient time for officials to develop and implement an enduring solution.”

Hopefully she’s right. Seeing how our horticulture industry gets jerked around by government on overseas workers, I admire her optimism.

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