Former Meat Board production supervisors reminisce

NZ Meat Board supervisors in 1990
NZ Meat Board supervisors lined-up on the Tomoana freezing works cooling floor in 1990.

On 12, 13 and 14 of March, the former New Zealand Meat Board Production Supervisors, who were finally disbanded in 1999, held a reunion in Christchurch.

The event, co-organised by former chief production supervisor Graeme Clent and Geoff Coombes, featured networking and sightseeing activities for the 16 supervisors and partners, including former New Zealand Meat Producers Board (NZMPB) quality assurance and Halal liaison officer Kevin O’Grady.

Kevin O’Grady.

It was the first time any of the former colleagues had got together since the round of redundancies in 1985 and later in 1999. O’Grady reports time had taken its toll, with the group remembering another 37 of their late colleagues. Several others could not attend due to ill health, including one of the organisers of the event, Graeme Clent, who had been hospitalised with pneumonia only days before the reunion.

“We were also saddened by the news that one of the non-attendees, John Cartney, passed away the day after the reunion,” says O’Grady.

However, stories and reminiscences flowed freely, about the people, places and memories taken from what was hundreds of collective years in the New Zealand meat industry. This was helped by the production of an impressive document, put together by Clent: “Growing old is hard work”. This pulls together photos from the working life of the supervisors and the New Zealand meat industry from the 1880s through to 1995, some personal histories and others around the development of the trade.

This shows in 1949, a NZMPB supervisor, Stan Smith-Pilling, helped Bob Barton select suitable lambs for Barton to prepare a paper on some aspects of export meat grading, entitled ‘Grading carcases for export’.

“From the outset, the Board firmly believed that uniform grading, set a high standard, would result in buyer satisfaction, so that in time New Zealand’s meat would develop a name for its trueness to grade and, as a consequence, buyers would order without personal inspection,” he wrote.

“It is almost certain the NZMPB started employing supervisors after WW2 to standardise the export grading system. In the late 1940s, the NZMPB started employing some in the North Island and then in the South Island,” writes Clent, who says he enjoyed his seven years spent in NZMPB’s head office.

“I enjoyed it very much, but I am not completely over the demise of the production team and how it was carried out,” he says. “We are slowly decreasing in numbers and when we look back you wouldn’t change a thing!”

Graeme Harrison, ANZCO Foods

Sir Graeme Harrison, Rabobank Leadership Award winner in 2016, amongst other accolades gathered during the ANZCO chairman’s career.

O’Grady says the group learned from guest speaker Sir Graeme Harrison where the GR point used for grading fat cover on lambs came from “That and the E-grade for overfat cattle were both named after the former chief supervising grader Ernie Grevelle (1958-1983) who was intent on cementing his place in meat industry history!”

They also learned about new red meat sector via information from Scott Technology and where the sector is now heading, including references to cultured meat and Beef + Lamb NZ’s new origin brand and ‘Taste Pure Nature’ campaign.

Individuals had gone on to a bewildering variety of careers after NZMPB, the group learned too, says O’Grady.

“These included security guard, food industry production management, meat inspection (using skills from their meat board roles) auditors and trainers for a number of meat and food programmes. Some had gone into business for themselves and one had become a renowned trainer of pacers.”

All are now retired and enjoying life and the grand-children. The average length of service at the final group of supervisors in 1999 was 20 years.

“This was truly a group dedicated to their craft and the service of farmers,” says O’Grady, whose Australia-based consultancy, Pinnacle Quality, sponsored some of the wine at the dinner.

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