Sausage smuggler escapes big fine
‘‘Such an outbreak [foot and mouth disease] would cripple New Zealand's farming industry and economy.’’
Three pork sausages almost smuggled into the country from India could have brought New Zealand’s meat exports to its knees.
And the government department responsible for protecting the border wanted the woman who tried to bring them in to pay a fine of more than $20,000.
Instead, Wellington District Court judge Peter Butler on Friday ordered Maria Benevita Suvira Lobo to do 200 hours’ community work, noting she could not pay such a fine.
Lobo, 59, of Porirua, had pleaded guilty to attempting to possess unauthorised goods and making a false declaration.
Lobo was given the meat by her brother while she was visiting Mumbai, India, in January. She packaged the meat and printed labels that said ‘mixed vege pickle’, ‘pickled meat vege’ and ‘stuffed carrot pickle’.
Asked by a quarantine inspector at Auckland Airport why she had done it, she replied: ‘‘I wanted to see whether you would catch me. I was trying to smuggle the sausages in because we don’t get this kind of sausage in New Zealand.’’ The meat weighed 1.3kg. In submissions for the Ministry for Primary Industries, Vatau Sagaga asked for the penalty starting point to be $20,000.
‘‘Such an outbreak [foot and mouth disease] would cripple New Zealand’s farming industry and economy.
‘‘The cost is measured in billions of dollars and would send the economy into recession,’’ he submitted.
He said foot and mouth stood alone in presenting the worst possible economic and social consequences to New Zealand. It was highly contagious and endemic to India.
Sagaga said the importation of raw meat was considered the most likely route to foot and mouth arriving in New Zealand
An MPI risk assessment exercise showed even a small outbreak could cost the country $5.8 billion.
The judge said New Zealand had never had a foot and mouth outbreak, and meat was the biggest risk of all. An outbreak would put exports, farming and jobs at risk.
Defence lawyer Al O’Connor said Lobo realised she had been foolish and stupid to try it. It had been opportunistic offending and she had no previous convictions.
He said a fine so large seemed completely over the top. Lobo accepted there was a risk but she had been ignorant of it.
The judge said he did not agree that a fine of that size was over the top, but accepted it would be futile to order it if she could not pay it.