Contrasting approaches: Aus deems food supply essential, NZ closes butchers

James Nason, 01/04/2020

AUSTRALIAN meat industry leaders have praised the Federal Government for “stepping up to the plate” and ensuring the essential nature of the agricultural supply chain in feeding the nation is recognised.

Every nation is taking its own approach to handling this crisis, and in most cases around the world this has meant keeping a range of food channels open so people are not being required to congregate in a small number of retail premises.

Jacinda Adern addressing a media conference on March 14.

One exception has been New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Government last week ruled that independent butchers will not be considered an essential service during the COVID-19 lockdown.

An initial NZ Government list some days earlier did not exclude butchers, classifying essential businesses as “any entity involved in the packaging, production and processing of food and beverage products, whether for domestic consumption or export”.

On the strength of that messaging many butchers purchased bulk stock to satisfy consumer demand amid the panic buying of previous weeks.

However, the situation changed on Thursday when the NZ Government shifted to a ‘Level 4’ lockdown.

With that announcment it released an updated – and reduced – list of essential services, which excluded butchers, bakeries and similar small-scale food retailers, “as similar products are readily available in supermarkets”.

Many butchers are now having difficulty dispensing the meat they cannot sell.

One NZ butcher chain alone will lose an estimated $3 million worth of meat, reported.

Retail Meat New Zealand has been advising its members it is working with senior NZ Ministry of Primary Industries staff to try to resolve the closures.

It said on its Facebook page it is bringing its attention to a range of issues including the bulk stock purchased by butcheries due to the lack of clarification of essential services, issues around butcheries that supply rest homes, halal certified meat to Islamic communities and small towns without access to supermarkets, and butcher shops with online stores and delivery services.

“We know the Prime Minister and ministers are aware of the issues we have raised,” Retail Meat NZ said on its Facebook page, while urging its members obey the law and wait for further updates.

In Australia, meat and retail industry groups have welcomed the Morrison Government’s approach to managing the supply of food through the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I think certainly we have been very thankful for David Littleproud as Agriculture minister, he has completely stepped up to the plate and has made it abundantly clear that the agricultural supply chain is essential to be feeding the nation,” Australian Meat Industry Council CEO Patrick Hutchinson told Beef Central.

“He has not said one channel is more important than the other, which is excellent.

“We have also worked with Minister Karen Andrews from a manufacturing and industry point of view, and we have worked with Michaelia Cash from a jobs and small business point of view, and essentially everybody is saying the same thing.”

“They are saying that by using social distancing you can go and buy your food and what you need.”

Mr Hutchinson said AMIC’s butcher members were working exhaustively to ensure consumers could buy what they needed, and also to assist individuals with information on how to cook and store meat.

“What this has shown to Australia as a country and as a community is butchers are important, meat is a non-discretionary spend,, it is a need, not a want,” he said.

“Whether they be metropolitan, rural or regional, butchers are important to their communities for a number of reasons, they are telling people how to cook, how to store, they’re looking after individuals.”

In a short online video (below) Australian Pork Limited CEO Margo Andrae said the Australian Government has assured industry leaders this week that butchers are an essential part of the Australian food supply chain.

“When retail support is so critical, there’s no easier way to help a small business than to stop by your local butcher and pick up something for dinner,” Ms Andrae said.

The Council of Small Business Operations Australia has also lobbied against reducing food supply channels, suggesting centralised shopping would add to – not reduce – health risks.

“Our understanding is that people need to stay away from each other as best as they can yet we see the big supermarket chains of Coles and Woolworths becoming hubs for people to purchase material while the smaller supermarkets, convenience stores and service stations in the suburbs are treated as secondary outlets,” Peter Strong, CEO of COSBOA, said.

“It has reached the stage where the larger supermarkets are allocating special times for older people to shop, bringing this vulnerable group together in large numbers.

“Wouldn’t we be better having people travel less distance for their necessities and meeting fewer people as they do so?”


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  1. Doug Jarvis, 04/04/2020

    Well done Australia.. keep your independent butchers going.. the way it was done here (nz) was disgusting.. I was told 7 hours before lockdown that I’m no longer to operate… $250k of meat on my shelves and stocked up to the hilt… its going to cripple me.. looking like I will be in Brisbane sooner than I expected 😡

  2. Olwyn Snellin, 03/04/2020

    We are a small family butcher shop in the Pilbara. We not only service the town of Karratha but some of the mining towns in the Pilbara who cannot buy their meat products. I am hoping desperately that butcher shops will continue to be an essential service so that we can keep our staff employed and so that we can keep doing our deliveries to these people. We are taking all the necessary steps that are needed to stop this virus from spreading in the pilbara.
    Please keep butchers on the list of essential services.
    I thankyou for your time.

    We share your concerns over butcher shops, Olwyyn. From our own experience, a butchery represents no more risk of infection than a supermarket, and arguably, a great deal less. Let’s hope our government is not swayed by add decisions across the Tasman. Editor

  3. Karina, 02/04/2020

    The question finalising this commentary is a mute question. It is NOT 1982. People get bored. Hence why smaller local shopping centres were abandoned for larger ones a few ks away……decades ago…..get with the program. People are entitled and spoiled.

  4. Shirley Peck, 02/04/2020

    Minister Ardern looks like she could do with a good feed of red meat from the butcher.

  5. Shirley Peck, 02/04/2020

    We need to have independent butchers. Otherwise if supermarkets control meat, price control on the sale of meat will be further affected which is not good for the general public and farmer. I don’t agree with NZ . Shirley.

  6. Nick, 02/04/2020

    I live in NZ it is a bad joke over here, this is a time when we need to look at our governments and representatives very carefully, but they have shut parliament in NZ and are accountable to no one!

    In NZ we have turned into a Police State by removing our rights to freedom etc while everyone watches the govt fail time and time again to make good of the tough decisions.

    Be warned that poor governance is the second largest factor to the success of countries trying to deal with this.

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