Beef cattle at a farm in North Canterbury
Beef cattle at a farm in North Canterbury (Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Covid on NZ meat claim puzzles government, worries industry

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin for Tuesday November 17, today a collaborative effort by a few Spinoff editors standing in for Alex Braae. Presented in partnership with Z Energy. In today’s edition: NZ meat industry shaken by Covid claims, cabinet mandates mask use, and trio of SkyCity executives very abruptly call it quits.

A report claiming Covid-19 was found in New Zealand meat products exported to China is causing headaches for our meat industry. The Reuters story said traces of the virus were found on beef and tripe and their packaging exported from Brazil, Bolivia and New Zealand to the Chinese city of Jinan.

That’s not what the New Zealand government had been told, however. Speaking on TVNZ’s Breakfast yesterday morning, and reiterating the point at her post-cabinet press conference in the afternoon, the prime minister said she’d been advised on Sunday that Covid had been detected on packaging of beef products from Argentina, which shared a coolstore with New Zealand products – not that New Zealand meat itself was affected. Jacinda Ardern said she was determined to get to the bottom of the claim, with MFAT promising to investigate to “ascertain the origin and veracity” of the report. “This is incredibly important to New Zealand,” said Ardern. “We are confident our products are not exported with Covid on them, given our status as being essentially Covid-19 free.”

The stakes are high, as Brent Melville writes in this (paywalled) report for BusinessDesk. Although red meat exports to China have reduced in recent months, it’s still easily the largest market for New Zealand beef and associated products. “For the June year, China accounted for $3.7 billion of NZ’s red meat exports, almost a quarter more than the previous year, as China’s demand for red meat protein spiked after African swine fever saw a massive cull of China’s pig herd.”

It was unfortunate that unsubstantiated reports were out in the international arena, Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva told RNZ’s Checkpoint. “It has the potential to damage the reputation of New Zealand red meat exports,” she said, adding that the industry moved collectively and quickly at the start of the pandemic to establish robust protocols around management of risks. But the scare was a timely reminder to exporters of the risks, trade minister Damien O’Connor said. “If they have people who are sick, working anywhere in New Zealand even though we have no community transmission, they should take all precautions and make sure people don’t come to work.”

The chances of Covid-19 spreading through frozen goods is low, according to the World Health Organisation, but that hasn’t stopped China from ramping up the testing of imported goods. The risk was front of mind for New Zealand back in August, when the Americold cool store in Mt Wellington was investigated as a potential source of the resurgence cluster via goods shipped from Melbourne. After environmental testing, it was eventually ruled out, as Stuff reported at the time.


As of Thursday, masks will be mandatory on all domestic flights and on public transport in Auckland, following yesterday’s cabinet decision. The move follows a series of leakages of Covid into the community, and the need to provide another safeguard against wider spread. Read more about the new rules, and the penalties for non-compliance, in yesterday’s live updates.

Drivers of taxis and rideshares in Auckland will be required to mask up, too. Passengers should be obliged to do the same, the Taxi Federation’s John Hart told RNZ Checkpoint. “It seems to us if there’s a danger of bringing in an infection into the car then the danger rests with everyone, and passengers in taxis should also be wearing masks,” he said. “Maybe there’s some logic behind it, but they haven’t told us what it is.”


The departure of three SkyCity executives has taken the business world by surprise, but its chairman claims the shock exits are not a sign of trouble at the casino giant, reports the Herald. In a statement to the NZX yesterday morning, SkyCity said chief executive Graham Stephens would “retire” effective from November 30, with chief operating officer Michael Ahearne taking over his role immediately, and both chief financial officer Rob Hamilton and chief marketing officer Liza McNally had resigned and would leave their roles in February and March respectively.

BusinessDesk (paywalled) reports that Hamilton had wanted the top job, but on missing out to Stephens, decided to depart the company, and McNally quit as she is relocating to Adelaide with her family. Shares in SkyCity were down 11 cents following the announcement, trading at $3.04 in the afternoon, reports Stuff.


After a weekend of busy Zoom diplomacy, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership was signed by 15 nations: 10 Asean members and five tag-alongs, including New Zealand and China. As far as international coverage is concerned, the deal, which covers about a third of the world’s economic activity, the interest focuses on what it means for simmering US-China tensions. Analysts viewed it, reported US network CNBC, as “a geopolitical victory for China at a time when the US appears to be retreating from Asia-Pacific”.

The delight was barely contained in a commentary in China’s state-controlled Global Times. “The signing of RCEP will be a blow to the Trump administration, which has hyped up trade frictions at all costs,” wrote Cheng Hanping. “The US is very likely to use all means, including confrontation, hostility and smear campaigns to interfere with RCEP’s operations.”

Your usual host, Alex Braae, has a helpful explainer on RCEP and what it means here. Among other questions he, asks (and answers) the following: What does New Zealand get out of it? Why did India withdraw? And how does it account for the Treaty of Waitangi?


In a development sure to rankle with newspaper readers, NZME has announced plans to change the names of various titles to fall under a common “Herald” masthead. That would mean, for example, the Whanganui Chronicle becoming the Whanganui Herald and the Northern Advocate becoming the Northern Herald.

As reported by RNZ, the change, which has no timeline at this stage, comes as part of a 145-page document for investors outlines “a path for the NZ Herald to become New Zealand’s Herald – expanding the New Zealand Herald’s national presence.”

The Herald, which has overtaken Stuff as the most-read online publication, following its rival’s decision to eschew sharing content on Facebook, has also set some very ambitious goals for subscriptions. It aims to have more than 15% of New Zealand households signed up to a digital or print product by 2025.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Jawsh and Vilette at the 2020 Aotearoa Music Awards (Photo: Stijl Ltd.)


Right now on The Spinoff: In what is sure to be removed from every social media platform immediately, the On the Rag team tackles the issue of boobs – what are they, who has ’em, who wants ’em and who doesn’t. David Hills remembers the polio epidemics that plagued New Zealand’s children. Linda Burgess reviews All Creatures Great and Small, the rebooted classic about beloved Yorkshire vet James Herriot. Dr Hirini Kaa looks back at 200 years of history of the Māori Anglican church. Duncan Greive introduces his latest podcast Coming Home, where he talks to those New Zealanders contributing to the “brain gain” and returning home because of the pandemic. Alex Braae explains the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal and what New Zealand stands to gain. Maia Hall asks if new ride share app DiDi is the ethical answer to the industry’s problems, or more of the same. Erin Matariki Carr and Phoebe Matariki Carr look at why Nanaia Mahuta’s appointment as foreign minister blindsided people, and what that says about the way foreign policy is discussed in Aotearoa. And, Jack Vowles finds New Zealand’s cannabis referendum results were defined by age.


Today’s feature comes from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and profiles the One America Network, the least popular but most passionate of the three Trump-supporting cable news networks in the US. It’s a study in the bizarre eccentricities of American capitalism, with its owner a guy who got rich selling computer hardware, then decided to start a channel named Wealth TV because, he believed, America did not celebrate nor chronicle the lives and interests of the rich enough. Really.

It shows how, despite its tiny audience, it’s highly appealing to one man in particular, and its slavish MAGA-isms, which make Fox News look like MSNBC, have given it a shot at becoming the post-White House home of Trump, assuming he ever leaves. It’s a fascinating media story, and a window into just how radically strange American conservative media has become at the fringes.

Over time, the line between the network’s commentators and news reporters all but disappeared. In 2019, OAN hired Chanel Rion, a conservative illustrator (“President Trump’s most stalwart graphic warrior against leftism,” per her website), as its White House correspondent. She’s since emerged as the defiant, maskless face of the network’s pandemic coverage—tangling over Covid safety protocols with the White House Correspondents’ Association, promoting the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was created in a North Carolina lab, and posing some memorably bizarre questions. “Is it alarming that major media players, just to oppose you, are siding with foreign state propaganda, Islamic radicals, and Latin gangs and cartels?” she asked Trump in March. (Rion didn’t respond to an interview request.)

All the while, OAN’s reputation grew stronger among hardcore Trump fans—and the people hoping to profit from them. In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that Hicks Equity Partners LLC, an investment firm based in Dallas, was trying to assemble a bid of roughly $250 million to acquire Herring Networks. Even by Trump-era standards, the deal had the air of a nepotistic feeding frenzy. According to the Journal, Thomas Hicks Jr. (son of the firm’s superwealthy founder) is friends with Donald Trump Jr. (son of the president) and was being backed by Doug Deason (son of billionaire Darwin Deason). “With the 2020 political season in full swing, expressed interest is on the rise,” Charles Herring told the Journal. “Yet our family didn’t build our operations to sell it.”


In the world of sport, a couple of posts from Twitter last night to ruminate on:


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