Porcine reproductive and respiratory (PRRS) costs U.S. pork producers an estimated $646 million annually, but it’s also costing them the potential of exporting pork to the likes of New Zealand and Australia.

That tide might be starting to turn. As the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) reports, New Zealand’s High Court has issued its decision in favor of the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to its Import Health Standard (IHS) for pig meat, products and by-products from countries with PRRS, including the United States.

This means that the IHS would allow “consumer-ready cuts” of uncooked pork that weigh less than 3 kilograms to be imported into the country. However, this is not a done deal. “It is likely that the New Zealand pork industry will appeal the decision by the June 1 deadline,” NPPC points out.

U.S. exporters have been advised to hold off on any export plans for the new category of eligible product until any appeals are concluded. The country’s draft IHS was actually issued in November 2007, but the New Zealand pork industry’s strong political opposition stalled the process for several years.

A New Zealand Independent Working Group and the New Zealand PRRS Expert Working Group recently presented the scientific evidence illustrating that pork products do not present a risk of PRRS virus infection in accord with the country’s Biosecurity Act. Based on a very conservative risk-assessment model, New Zealand’s chances of getting PRRS from legally imported uncooked pork product are 1-in-1,227 years the most recent risk-assessment indicated.

New Zealand Pork wanted further risk assessments, but the High Court ruled that given technology advancements such requests could simple produce “a permanent loop of argument over science from which there is no escape” and that the statutory players need to be accorded a reasonable degree of latitude in the way that they make biosecurity risk assessments. The court further pointed out that within the Biosecurity Act is “an acceptance that complete elimination of risk may not always be possible or even necessary.”

MPI Director-General Wayne McNee, added that “while the new import health standards are less restrictive than previous standards, they are much more restrictive than the standards in place prior to 2001. Pre-2001, raw pork was imported with no restrictions for over 10 years, and no outbreaks of PRRS occurred.”

New Zealand has reported the virus that causes PRRS but claims it does not have the PRRS virus circulating in its swine herd, NPPC says.

NPPC is pleased with this recent High Court decision, however, more work is needed. NPPC says it will “continue to advocate for full and open access for U.S. pork and pork products into New Zealand and any country that erects unscientific barriers to trade for U.S. pork producers.”