Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Land of the Cloven-Hoofed Cow

The foot-and-mouth scare which panicked New Zealand yesterday is almost certainly a hoax, the Minister for Agriculture Jim Sutton assured the nation on TV last night. The Minister, strangling any unwary vowels and looking more like a a 70s bureaucrat than a contemporary politican (an endearing feature, I think), also reminded everyone that the disease is no threat to humans, only affecting "those with cloven hooves". In other words, various species of farm animals plus Satan, the Great Deceiver.

But the most telling point was the Minister's reminder that over 50% of New Zealand's export revenue comes from cloven-hoofed animals. Today I've seen claims that it accounts for up to 65%. This is somewhat chastening. Forget the film industry and Wellywood, adventure tourism and NZ Inc, wine, fruits and other niche crops, high-tech, the Knowledge Wave and the e-economy - it's sheep and cows wot pay the bills.

Sitting in their offices in Wellington and Auckland, urban New Zealanders like to kid themselves that they now live in a land of lattes and liberalism, Cafe Culture and clean-green Pacific Rim Fusion, avant garde paua-and-greenstone jewellery sold via the internet from a cottage in Takaka, $50 bottles of pinot noir squeezed out of Central Otago terroir, a kinder, gentler hip-hop washed by the warm Pacific and popular in Europe.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to wince slightly on being reminded that we all depend for our prosperity on blokes and blokesses who wander through the mud and drizzle in gumboots and swannis to hammer in fenceposts. At the end of the day, its still a land of cloven-hoofed animals. As people I met in Peru would say: "A lot of ganaderia, no?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A cynical suggestion I heard was that Helen herself might have generated this scare to cover up other uncomfortable issues being aired by the media. While I don't actually believe this is true, big issues that occupy the media for days and then turn out to be a hoax (which we all hope this is) do allow other things to fade from public attention. Hoax or not, it does bring home how exposed our country is to threats to our agricultural exports and shakes our image of ourselves as having emerged from being a rural economy into something more urban and sophisticated.