An extra 500 workers will certainly help but only if they get here in time.
New Zealand exported a total of 471,072 tonnes of halal product during the season (12 months ending 30 September) – 46.5% of total red meat and offal exports. This is compared to 417,323 tonnes during 2019-2020.
China was the largest market for New Zealand halal-certified red meat during the 2020-21 season, purchasing 341,618 tonnes, 74% of the total and a 23% increase on the previous year.
The United States was the second highest with 20,043 tonnes, followed by Canada’s 18,945 tonnes, Indonesia with 17,604 tonnes, Saudi Arabia with 7,710 tonnes and Malaysia with 7,289 tonnes.
Significant halal-certified exports also went to the Netherlands, Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, with other markets also purchasing a combined 41,261 tonnes – 10% of the total.
Demand has more than doubled since 2015-16, when halal-certified red meat exports totalled 232,328 tonnes.
Halal certification is a market access requirement in regions such as the Middle East, whereas in other countries, certification is a response to consumer demand.
Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of MIA, says the growth in halal-certified exports highlighted the critical importance of the halal sector and its small but important workforce in New Zealand.
“As an industry, we need some 250 qualified Muslim butchers in order to operate halal processing at capacity.
“Our challenge is that New Zealand’s Muslim community is very small and it limits our opportunities to fully recruit domestically. Approximately 100 New Zealand resident halal workers are recruited each year through a national recruitment drive,” she says.
Karapeeva says that despite this, New Zealand has to look to migrant workers to fill the remaining halal butcher roles across the country, and Covid-19 has made that increasingly difficult.
“This represents less than one per cent of the total meat industry workforce, but contributes to around 40 per cent of our sector’s export revenue.
“In discussions with government, we have consistently set out the arguments for allowing a very small number of migrants to come to New Zealand to support our industry to continue to contribute to New Zealand’s economic wellbeing.
“While the Government made some changes to immigration settings with the residence pathway in September, the industry is seeking an enduring solution that would facilitate the entry of migrant halal butchers such as a special visa category for them.”
New Zealand’s red meat sector has consistently evolved to meet the needs of global markets and that has included investing in developing processing expertise and practices in line with specific religious requirements, says Ms Karapeeva.
“Halal processing is now a cornerstone of the industry’s business model of breaking down the carcass and the flexibility to export different cuts from a single carcass to the best-returning markets.
“This focus on meeting the needs of a wide range of global consumers has proved critical during the COVID-19 crisis when meat processing and exporting companies were able to re-direct exports away from markets under pressure and weather the worst of the global disruption.”