OPINION: Rural NZ is again getting the rough end of the stick when it comes to services - this time in relation to Covid-19 vaccinations.
Federated Farmers is the latest industry lobby calling for the Government to reconsider and let small fresh food sellers stay open under level 3 and, if necessary, at level 4.
New Zealand’s first COVID-19 lockdown rules meant butchers, bakers and greengrocers could not open as the small retailers were considered non-essential.
But Feds president Andrew Hoggard is pleading with the Government to “let the little guys stay open”.
“Let them sell fresh food, because it’s safer, fairer and better for small communities trying to buy local," Hoggard says.
He believes the rule needs a rethink if we are to go back into a full-scale lock down.
"This is for fresh food. We need to keep supply chains moving, from the paddock to the plate, not paddock to the dump, as happened last lockdown."
Hoggard says the supermarkets did an incredibly good job in the first lockdown but enforcing the closure of smaller food retailers was short-sighted.
Food retailers such as butchers, bakers and greengrocers can observe distancing and hygiene rules as well as supermarkets and having them open will ease queues experienced at the bigger stores.
Having the ability to sell online is not the point, he adds.
“The point is the current rules don’t make sense for domestic food producers, retailers and customers keen to stay close to home and buy local.
"It’s also tough for the small stores to adapt to being online. They can’t afford the technology and the distribution systems required."
This week Horticulture NZ wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking her to classify independent fruit and vegetable retailers as essential services under COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and 4.
In New Zealand there are multiple ways fresh fruit and vegetables are available for sale to the general public. The majority of these sales are made through large supermarket chains and independent fresh fruit and vegetable retailers, at a market share of approximately 80% and 20% respectively. However, in Auckland independent retailers represent 60% of sales of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Hort NZ chief executive Mike Chapman says unlike supermarkets, fresh fruit and vegetables sold through independent retailers are different grades than sold in supermarkets and in some outlets at more affordable prices and in high end outlets at higher prices.
“Independent retailers also sell culturally significant fresh fruit and vegetables in their communities (that aren’t readily available in supermarkets) that form the staple diets of different ethnic groups in New Zealand.
“When New Zealand was in Alert Level 4 and 3 earlier this year, households were significantly impacted by not having access to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from independent retailers, especially lower income households,” says Chapman.
In addition, rural communities often rely on independent retailers for supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables that are produced locally, where large supermarket chains are not readily present.
“This is in alignment with the government’s messaging to support local businesses,” he says.