25 May 2013

Farmer critical of MPI's performance

7:26 am on 25 May 2013

A South Canterbury farmer says it's clear the Ministry for Primary Industries is under-performing - with both the minister and the associate minister publicly questioning its performance recently.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has publicity berated MPI officials for a certification lapse that led to the Chinese customs and quarantine authority refusing to release meat shipments from ports there.

He has also criticised the ministry for the delay in alerting him to the issue and not keeping him properly informed.

An arable farmer and contractor, Jeremy Talbot, says Associate Minister for Primary Industries Jo Goodhew also made it clear she's unimpressed with MPI at a recent farmer meeting in the region.

He says she was stunned by a Federated Farmers' report into the conditions in which palm kernel expeller is produced in Malaysia. The product is subsequently exported here as a feed supplement for dairy cows.

Mr Talbot says Ms Goodhew said she was getting a different story from MPI.

He says with both ministers expressing doubts about their own ministry, people in agriculture have cause for concern.

Mr Talbot says MPI's Wellington operation is particularly weak.

Ministry staff under pressure - union

However, the union that represents workers at MPI says the staff there are under huge pressure and are under-resourced too.

It says when those conditions are created it's inevitable that mistakes will be made

Public Service Association's national secretary, Richard Wagstaff, says the Government's recent restructuring of the MPI could be a contributing factor to the China meat mistakes.

In 2011, when the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry for Fisheries merged the Government got rid of 233 full-time positions.

Of those roles, 166 were based in Wellington.

Mr Wagstaff says it's too early to be certain whether the job losses are a contributing factor to the certification mix-up but they could well be, and he's waiting for Government's official review of the incident.

MPI did not respond to questions asking whether its staff believe the Government's cuts have left the Ministry unable to perform its role properly.