Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Growing our Future

New Zealand farmers are sitting on a multi-billion dollar crop if the value of pasture renewal is anything to go by.

Last week I launched an economic report which shows that we could add $1.6 billion to the New Zealand economy by treating pasture as a crop, rather than something incidental to the business of creating meat, wool and dairy products. There was a great crowd of industry players there to hear about what pasture renewal can add to our economy.

The report, by the Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust, is the first on the value of pasture to the economy and the figures are very impressive. The Trust is working hard to fill a gap and improve knowledge of methods available and the implications that some often simple measures can have for farmers.

I hope that this report will encourage farmers to look at pasture development in a new way – as an essential part of their businesses.

Photo: Hon David Carter and Murray Willocks (Chairman of PRCT) with pasture examples

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saving the Mighty Kauri

Every Kiwi would agree that kauri is a treasured species that must be protected for future generations.

This made our recent pledge of $4.7 million to help save kauri threatened by a disease known as ‘kauri dieback’ all the more significant.

The total fund for the future management of kauri dieback now stands at $9.8 million, thanks in part to the support of several regional councils working closely with government agencies and Maori to combat the threat.

The disease is attacking kauri trees in the upper North Island and on Great Barrier Island. It is a serious biosecurity threat to kauri which, as New Zealanders, we are duty-bound to protect.

Our ancient kauri forests are a really important part of our ecosystem, as well as being part of our heritage. This funding will help us to maintain them into the future.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PGP Open For Business

On September 16th, I hosted a function at Parliament for around 100 people to officially launch the Primary Growth Partnership.

This major initiative, announced in the Budget, will see up to $140 million a year injected into primary sector growth and innovation. This is a huge investment for a country of our size, and it will bring huge benefits.

The Prime Minister and Bill Falconer, who will chair the Investment Advisory Panel, also spoke and both of them are very excited about the opportunities that PGP will bring to the primary sector.

Main players across the entire primary sector were at the function and people I spoke to were looking forward to getting involved in PGP.

This is the key to the success of the Primary Growth Partnership. It’s all about industry involvement; the PGP is truly a 50/50 partnership.

Since May, a lot of work has gone into developing the criteria for deciding the projects that will receive PGP funding, and the six-member Investment Advisory Panel is now up and running.

Bill Falconer is joined on the panel by John Brakenridge, Dr Kevin Marshall, Colin McKenzie, Joanna Perry and Jamie Tuuta. It’s great to have such an experienced team.

The Primary Growth Partnership is now open for business and I anticipate many fascinating and innovative ideas coming forward.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Smarter Borders

John Key and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently announced plans to make it easier to travel across the Tasman. This, of course, has major implications for biosecurity – in fact, if it didn’t, you could almost make trans-Tasman travel a domestic experience.

But New Zealand takes biosecurity very seriously because it is critical to our reputation and economy. A major breach of biosecurity would affect us all and this is why we need to be constantly reviewing the way we do things at the border. We can’t just accept that what we have now is the best we can do.

The trans-Tasman travel package includes measures that will deliver a better, smarter, and more efficient biosecurity system at our border.

The changes cover a new express arrivals lane for travellers identified as low biosecurity risk, a pilot of assessing/x-raying bags during flight time to allow quicker processing on arrival for passengers not carrying risk goods, and an increase in the instant biosecurity infringement fine, from $200 to $400.

Research done by MAF Biosecurity New Zealand shows that not all bags pose an equal level of biosecurity risk, with the majority presenting little or no risk and only 4% containing risk goods.

Don’t get me wrong, obviously we would prefer not to find any risk goods – but the reality is we need to deliver a smarter and more efficient biosecurity system.

You will notice changes to our biosecurity screening by the end of March next year – but don’t worry, one thing that won’t change is that our busy beagles will still be hard at work sniffing out any trouble.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trip to Brussels and the UK

I’ve recently returned from a 10-day trip to Brussels and the United Kingdom. While it was great to escape the winter gloom here in New Zealand, there wasn’t much time to appreciate the European summer as I had a hectic programme of meetings with politicians, officials, farmers and major buyers of New Zealand goods.

Highlights of the trip included a lengthy meeting that Fonterra Chair Henry van der Heyden and I had with the EU Commissioner of Agriculture, Mariann Fischer Boel.

We covered a wide range of issues from subsidies and New Zealand’s experience of agricultural reform in the 1980s, to climate change and the prospects of resurrecting the Doha round.

I also had the opportunity to meet with my UK counterpart, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn, and Shadow Minister Nick Herbert.

In many ways, the standout event was the chance to attend the Royal Show and to host a New Zealand function there. The Show has been an iconic event on the British rural calendar, but sadly this year was its last.

Nonetheless, it was great to be able to see a cross-section of British agriculture, to meet many farmers and to promote New Zealand agriculture to a wide range of interests.

While much of New Zealand’s focus in recent times has been on developing new markets in Asia, this trip reinforced just how important our long-standing relationship with Europe, and particularly the UK, is. Although we have occasional differences of opinion, we face many of the same challenges and much can be gained from working together.

The trip also demonstrated beyond doubt the importance of integrity of the New Zealand brand. Repeatedly it was made clear to me that European consumers expect New Zealand primary produce to meet the highest standards of sustainability, animal welfare and food safety.

It is a simple equation - if we don’t continue to meet and exceed these expectations, we will lose market share. This is the challenge facing every New Zealand farmer and grower. And it is certainly my focus as the Minister of Agriculture.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Meat: The Future

Twice this year I’ve gone in search of some great tasting lamb and beef – first as a judge at the Glammies (Golden Lamb Awards) and then as a judge of the best steak at the Steak of Origin competition.

It’s not hard to guess that I enjoy eating Kiwi beef and lamb. It also explains my real interest in the recent launch of “Meat: the Future”, a MAF study that looks at the opportunities and challenges facing our meat industry.

The study points to a positive future for the sector – as long as it recognises that it needs to change. As I said at the launch, the status quo cannot remain for the industry.

It was good to see the study shows some optimism; two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that the meat sector would be a good investment in 15 years’ time.

Following the launch, I met with senior meat sector representatives to generate debate within the industry about where it heads from here.

Discussion was robust and productive. It is hopefully only the beginning of a process by which the meat industry – processors, farmers and other stakeholders – will work together to deliver higher returns to the sector.

My challenge to everyone involved is to think about where you want this industry to be in 10 to 15 years’ time. Solutions need to be driven by the sector, for the sector.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Toasting the Fieldays

I can’t let mid-year go by without reflecting on one of the most important events in the agricultural calendar – the National Fieldays at Mystery Creek.

The healthy relationship between farmers and Government was clearly evident on the day the Prime Minister and I attended Fieldays. Everyone we met on that wet Wednesday was welcoming and positive.

One reason for the vote of confidence was the Primary Growth Partnership initiative I announced on Budget Day.

PGP will deliver significant economic growth and sustainability across the primary sector. Continued economic growth in the primary sector is especially important in these tough economic times, and so is adaptability and resilience.

Hamilton, home of the Fieldays, is also the centre of dairy farming. The pressure the dairy sector is currently under was apparent, but so was farmer resilience.

With the reduced payout and drop in land prices, some in the dairying sector are struggling, but farmers I met over the day remained optimistic about the future.

Good farmers will refocus in times like these. Spending will be at a minimum.

According to Fieldays’ organisers, there was a shift in spending from large capital expenditure to maintenance. Sales weren’t as high as last year but the majority of exhibitors’ expectations were exceeded. So, if Fieldays is a yard stick for the market we should be cautiously optimistic and confident our sensible and business-driven farmers will lead New Zealand’s recovery.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Budget focus on innovation for agriculture

The primary sector is where this country's natural advantage lies.

As the global population increases, the world must produce more food. There are reports that by 2060 the world will need to produce twice as much food from less land. Ultimately, much of this production increase will have to come from smarter technologies and efficiencies in farming.

We cannot rely on research and development of previous decades.

Put simply, key to maintaining our status as market leaders in agriculture is continued innovation – this is something we must never take for granted.

It is the reason National promised substantially more money for primary sector innovation and why we have delivered it with Budget 2009.

We are boosting growth and innovation in the primary sectors through the funding of the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP).

PGP is a government-industry partnership that will see investment in significant programmes of research and innovation in New Zealand’s primary and food sectors, including forestry.

In the first four years of the Primary Growth Partnership alone, the Government will make $190 million available alongside matching industry investment. From 2013, the partnership will see the Government investing $70 million annually in primary sector innovation.

The scope of the Primary Growth Partnership initiative includes pastoral and arable production; horticulture; seafood; forestry and wood products; and food processing.

This government is here to help, not to hobble industry. We will remove obstacles rather than create them and provide leadership to ensure the primary sector's success and development in the future.

The primary sector is the engine room of our economy and the Primary Growth Partnership will be an important incentive in helping Government and industry to lead New Zealand out of recession.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Resilience and determination

I was able to congratulate some of New Zealand’s true custodians on Saturday night as the guest of honour at the Century Farm Awards, held in Lawrence, Central Otago.

Thirty-two faming families were celebrating the milestone of farming their properties for more than 100 years and some for more than 150 years.

These families represent the great things about New Zealand farmers - past and present – that is, resilience, adaptability, gritty determination and a love of the land.

The families honoured have farmed through two world wars, the Great Depression, Britain’s entry to the European Economic Community, the oil shocks of the 1970s and the elimination of government subsidies in the 1980s.

On top of that, they are now farming through the current global recession.

As a first generation farmer I truly appreciate what an achievement this is.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spelling it out

In recent weeks there has been heated debate on the issue of live sheep exports for slaughter.

There have been claims that a “six-year moratorium” has been lifted and that the Government is resuming the live sheep for slaughter trade next month. This is simply not the case.

An irresponsible claim by the Green Party, in March, fuelled speculation that I, as Agriculture Minister, had opened the doors to live exports with total disregard for New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible exporter.

And, worse, with complete disregard for the very high bar we set on animal welfare issues.

Last weekend I spoke at the national conference of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I know many of their members are worried about the issue – I have responded to hundreds of letters – and I was keen to spell out the real facts.

New Zealand stopped livestock exports to Saudi Arabia following a horrific incident involving Australian sheep on the Cormo Express in 2003. Since then, the governments of Saudi Arabia and New Zealand have had ongoing discussions about opportunities around the export of live sheep for slaughter.

This was not begun under National’s watch; the talks were initiated by the previous government. They must be honoured, but for trade to resume there are two matters to satisfy - one is the transport of stock (a very long journey by any standards), and the other is around humane, commercial slaughter on arrival. These are two very, very high hurdles to meet.

I want to absolutely assure you that New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible exporter will be maintained.

The fact is New Zealand will not be resuming a live sheep for slaughter trade any time soon. The export of livestock to Saudi Arabia for slaughter will remain prohibited unless New Zealand is totally satisfied that the highest animal welfare and animal safety standards are met both on the journey and on arrival.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

New Zealand is a great nation and I will not recklessly jeopardise our hard-earned reputation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rain but no relief

The trouble with a winter drought is that it’s hard to explain to those that don't farm.

I visited Gisborne and met with the local drought committee on April 20 and announced government assistance for drought affected farmers in the region. The announcement was made as it rained.

The fact of the matter is these farmers are going into their third year of drought; with soil temperatures dropping, rain is too late for grass growth. The positives, in contrast to last year, are the price of store stock is up, the price of supplementary feed is down, and the region’s farmers do not have to compete for feed with other drought stricken areas.

The North Island’s East Coast seems to be the only area in New Zealand that hasn't enjoyed a reasonable autumn. I have done a fair bit of travelling over the past month and farmers up and down the country are generally very positive, despite the global economic situation.

For good reason, I too am optimistic. The New Zealand primary sector has some great things going for it and, as I have said before, it will be the primary sector that leads New Zealand's recovery.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ways with wool

Strong wool is the one area in agriculture I have identified as needing to pull its socks up quick-smart.

It is a disappointment to me that the drive seems to have disappeared out of our strong wool industry restructuring. This is despite substantial investment of time and money by industry leaders and taxpayers.

Conversely, I am an admirer of what Merino New Zealand has achieved with fine wool. This model of innovation is exciting. It has changed the perception of fine wool through research and innovation, supply chain expertise and marketing.

The decline in strong wool prices is unsustainable. I know some farmers are finding it is costing more to shear their wool than they actually receive for the product itself.

As consumers demand products that are natural and environmentally sustainable I wonder where we have gone wrong. New Zealand wool is a natural product that has attributes that outweigh many synthetic products. We must maximise these opportunities, because synthetics are certainly not produced naturally.

I appreciate the timing of strong wool proposals from Wool Partners International and Elders Wool Marketing Enterprises have clashed with the international credit crisis but the reality is, economically, sheep farmers are in a better position than they have been for years.

With stable sheep meat prices, and the drought over, we are in an ideal position to invest in strong wool.

I believe the timing is right - Merino New Zealand has shown us the model, there are two options on the table, both radically different approaches to the status quo.

It is not my role as Agriculture Minister to tell farmers which option to take, but I will say, doing nothing is not an option.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tree hugger

As Minister of Forestry and Minister for Biosecurity, I have a special interest in these portfolio areas. The significance of both forestry and biosecurity was further confirmed to me during visits to both to Tauranga and Rotorua over the past month.

Apart from forestry’s economic role in sustainable development, it is valued for recreation and its place in the landscape. Due to the value we, as a country, place on this resource, getting biosecurity right is also critical. The arrival of a major forestry pest or disease would be devastating.

It is for this reason the New Zealand Government is committed to improving our already internationally well regarded biosecurity system, which is vital to primary industries and to New Zealand as a whole.

My recent Rotorua trips have been in relation to Scion, the Crown Research Institute that is recognised as a leader in forestry science.

I firstly toured Scion facilities and secondly opened an international workshop on forestry and biosecurity.

Scion is doing some great work. Wood has such potential in markets that are increasingly demanding environmental sustainability.

One of the new projects that amazed me was a smart packaging product – a biodegradable wood replacement for polystyrene – about time we had an environmental friendly packaging for whiteware you might say.

While in the Bay MAF Biosecurity took the opportunity to show me around the Port of Tauranga where I looked at biosecurity, surveillance and monitoring of forest plots.
Around the port is a high biosecurity risk area. I was impressed with the systems that have been established to monitor any incursions that might breach our border.

It is impossible for any country, even a geographically remote island nation like New Zealand, to isolate itself from all risks of imported pests and diseases.

For this reason it was especially relevant for me to be part of the international biosecurity and forestry conference hosted by Scion just a few weeks later. The conference was about promoting global cooperation in forest-related research and enhancing the understanding of the ecological, economic and social aspects of forests and trees.

Significant benefits to New Zealand will result from links with international science, particularly as biosecurity is so important to New Zealand’s economy and society.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Good for the environment is good for business

This morning I launched the latest Dairying and Clean Streams: Snapshot of Progress.

When it was developed back in 2003, the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord was a welcome initiative.

Farmers are implicitly connected with their land. Their land is also their business and they are motivated to take care of, and preserve their number one asset. For this reason they are constantly trialling new and better ways of doing things.

Five years down the track, the Accord is still one of the key indicators of the desire in the dairy industry to improve water quality.

The Accord results reveal three targets are well on track for 2012. These include: exclusion of stock from waterways; bridging and culverting; and adopting nutrient budgets. I congratulate the dairy farmers of New Zealand on these results and welcome the progress made by the dairy industry in cleaning up rivers and streams on dairy farms.

But I also used this opportunity to send a strong message to farmers who refuse to toe the line.

The small number of dairy farmers who ignore effluent disposal requirements are damaging the reputation of the dairy industry as a whole.

It is simply unacceptable to pollute. Not only does it antagonise environmental organisations but also wider New Zealand. More importantly, it risks the hard-gained reputation that New Zealand Inc. has established in our international markets.

I am expecting an improvement in the progress on this target because clean fresh water is of intrinsic value to farmers; we can't do business without it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Agriculture - New Zealand's Super Hero

I thought this cartoon by Guy Body in yesterday's New Zealand Herald hit the nail on the head. Yes, agriculture is absolutely important to New Zealand and the key to recovery from the current economic climate.

Monday, March 2, 2009

An honourable profession

According to the Readers Digest, vets rank in the top ten of New Zealand’s most trusted professions. In fact, they rank number seven, two ahead of teachers, two behind doctors and three behind nurses.

As both a farmer, which ranks 13 on the list, and a politician, which ranks 39, it was with great pleasure last week I announced the Government’s new Graduate Bonding Scheme with my colleagues, Education Minister Anne Tolley and Health Minister Tony Ryall. See full New Zealand’s most trusted professions list.

The initiative addresses shortages of vets, doctors, midwives, nurses and teachers.

Rural areas can face greater challenges recruiting and retaining professionals due to isolation and remoteness. As Minister of Agriculture, one of the areas I will be focusing on is strengthening rural communities. The combined effect of the new graduate bonding scheme will do just that.

As I will tell the Veterinary Council tonight, when I open their new premises in Wellington, the voluntary bonding scheme for vets will see new graduates taking on rural practice, gumboots and all.

The scheme is targeted at rural vet practices working with farmed animals and encourages new graduates to stay on by providing a taxable payment of $11,000 each year, for up to five years.

More on the Vet Bonding Scheme.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bull parades and good breeding

I finished a full-on day in Hamilton last week with a bull parade. Some of New Zealand’s top dairy stud bulls were on display at a re-branding launch for the company CRV AmBreed.

These impressive beasts are vital in the production of superior dairy cows.

Genetic innovation results not only in increased productivity gain but has the potential to solve some of the challenges agriculture faces.

Climate change obligations and environmental expectations are just some of the hurdles. Increasingly, society and international markets are demanding proven environmental sustainability.

We are yet to find the solution when it comes to animal emissions. Solutions to these issues we face will result from the use of natural resources including genetics and the generation of new ideas through research and innovation.

Companies such as CRV AmBreed and Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) are underpinning the future and prosperity of New Zealand agriculture with their world-leading deployment of cutting edge technologies and practises.

New Zealand has a crucial role to play in the international genetics market.
These companies are a critical part of the international mix, not just for the export potential, but for the opportunity to effectively serve the world’s best dairy farmers.

Weathering tough times together

Last week I opened the Foundation for Arable Research - Maize Conference 2009.

Over the past 30 years I have observed maize becoming an important component of New Zealand's primary sectors.

Maize silage is now an integral part of the dairying system in New Zealand. It provides a good supplement to pasture, keeping stock in condition when pasture is limited, and it helps to increase milk production.

Last year both the maize and dairy industries were booming. Record payouts for milk solids, combined with drought meant that demand for silage in 2008 often outstripped the available supply. Prices were high. This year with a falling milk payout and better climatic conditions demand for silage has reduced.

I have been disappointed to hear of deals between maize growers and dairy producers being reneged on. This sort of behaviour does not bode well for either growers or buyers and is poor business practice. I encourage both the maize and dairy industries to look long-term and work together to weather these economically challenging times.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Travel time

I spent a lot of time in airports last week. Getting from Wellington to the Australian capital, Canberra and back again is not straightforward. It did mean I had space for a couple of media interviews and a chance to chat with the Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Murray Sherwin, who accompanied me.

The trip to Australia was about building those important trans-Tasman relationships. New Zealand has many common issues with our neighbour and it is very important we have face-to-face talks.

I met with my counterpart, the Australian Minister of Agriculture Tony Burke who is an up-and-comer in the Government over there. The agenda was wide ranging. Australia and New Zealand share many issues of concern for the primary sector including drought management, water storage, climate change, free trade and biosecurity.

I also met with Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull. We compared notes on the economic state of the primary sectors in our two countries as part of a broader discussion on the challenging state of the global economy.

After my meeting with Mr Turnbull I attended Question Time. The Australian system is different to New Zealand to I was interested in how the process there worked.

Now in New Zealand again I am back into the swing of things with the House sitting and Question Time kicking off today.

One of the other interesting meetings I had while in Australia was with officials of the organisation that runs the National Livestock Identification System. These animal tracing systems are generating discussion on both sides of the Tasman.

New Zealand is currently looking at implementing such a system labelled NAIT. The scheme would provide a lifetime traceability of individual animals. The NAIT proposal is one tool that will meet the growing requirements of our trading partners, as well as improve New Zealand's ability to manage new incursions and existing pests and diseases.

It is currently undergoing a second stage business study which is due out in July. Until the full cost/benefit analysis of the scheme is complete the Government won’t be making a final commitment. More >>

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Capital commitments

I had the family in tow yesterday. They don’t often come to the Capital.

Some MPs shift their families to Wellington but when I became an MP we made a conscious decision that home was Canterbury. It means I work out of the Christchurch office most Fridays and am home on the weekends.Listen to more about life on the farm >>

We had the first official caucus catch-up of the year yesterday - an all day meeting at Premier House, the Prime Minister’s official residence.

The Prime Minister is really on top of things. He is certainly showing himself as a leader; everyone is in step.

The new Government knows what it wants to achieve. The announcement on the Resource Management Act reform covers one of the things we promised to fix at election time. We are making progress fast.

Farmers from around the country have been crying out for change for years. I know my personal experiences with the Act on Banks Peninsula have been far from satisfactory.

Changes to the Resource Management Act will simplify and streamline processes without compromising environmental protections.

These reforms have required a delicate rebalancing between the rights of people to participate in resource consent decision making, to appeal decisions, and the need for efficient decision making.

The Resource Management (Simplify & Streamline) Amendment Bill, which contains more than 100 amendments, will be introduced to Parliament later in February and referred to the Environment and Local Government Select Committee for public submission and hearings.

A further phase of reform of the RMA is planned addressing specific areas of concern covering aquaculture, the structure of the Environmental Protection Authority, fresh water management, and urban design and infrastructure issues. More on RMA reform >>

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pet project

I was in Palmerston North last week and visited Massey University.

I was really impressed, the science and innovation coming out of there is incredible.

We have some bright, young things way ahead of the game, it was great to see.

Part of my visit included a tour of the Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences where I met some veterinary students and a dog named Patch - a blue heeler-border collie cross from one of the University farms.

Rural veterinarians play an essential role in maintaining high standards of animal welfare, biosecurity, and food safety.

I know from my own personal experience many rural areas have inadequate veterinary services.

This shortage poses a threat to our pastoral farming model and is a major concern of the New Zealand Veterinarian Association.

As the Minister of Agriculture I recognise the contribution vets make to New Zealand’s primary sector and am keen to assist in retention of vets in rural areas.

The Government has consulted closely with Massey and New Zealand Veterinarian Association to design a bonding scheme for vets who are prepared to work in hard to staff rural areas.

The bonding initiative is expected to be implemented shortly.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

The good life

We had a bit of fun on the farm this week with a photographer and our chickens.

The chooks are a recent acquisition for the Carter family, and our story is being used for a feature in Your Weekend magazine (Saturday February 21 - The Dominion Post, The Press and Waikato Times) about the boom in backyard chook-keeping.

Writer Adelia Hallett looks at the growing desire for chooks among urban folk as well as rural dwellers, with interesting figures such as Progressive Enterprises saying that chook food is now sold in 60 per cent of its supermarkets, including many in ultra-urban areas.

Apparently there are quotes from chook-keepers across the country, plus there are tips for those keen to join the trend.

As Minister of Agriculture I am committed to best practice in our relationship with animals. I hope you can see from the pictures my red shavers are well cared for.

Of course the small, free-range, backyard option is not one for everybody and changing to completely free range poultry farming is unrealistic.

Given the very large and growing numbers of eggs and poultry consumed in New Zealand such a move would mean the conversion of large areas of productive land to poultry farming when it can be used much more effectively for other forms of farming upon which our economic future depends.

Interesting enough when it comes to actually purchasing eggs only about 10 percent of consumers buy free range eggs, and this figure has remained more or less static for some years.

Battery chicken farming is an emotive topic. As the Minister what I am focused on is taking practical and realistic steps to alleviate the conditions under which animals are kept. Animal welfare is high on my agenda.

You may be interested to know the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has been working on a series of codes which ensure that animals are not inhumanely treated.

The three most recent of these have been for hens, cats and pigs, and these have made significant improvements to the conditions under which these animals are housed and farmed.

I am well aware that the present codes do not deliver all of the changes that some groups would like to see. But for the codes to be enforceable they must be workable. That means in practical terms gaining the confidence and co-operation of farmers and producers. We can best proceed by a series of steps rather than by sudden, and enforced change, which is likely to generate opposition which negates the progress made.

There is to be a further review in 2009 and I hope that as a result we can make further progress in improving the conditions under which we farm animals in this country.

There is a website you can consult at www.biosecurity.govt.nz/animal-welfare which will connect you to the MAF animal welfare group, and this will give you a detailed update on progress which is being made in improving animal welfare codes.