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War Economy

Cool Storage Inadequate

Cool Storage Inadequate

The most urgent need, in the event of shipping delays, would be for refrigerated storage, and this was fully realised when Defence Minister Hon. F. Jones made his statement in Parliament in August 1936.1

Very little was achieved before the war to increase storage facilities for perishable exports. Surveys were made and a subcommittee of the Supply Committee of the Organisation for National Security went so far as to recommend that meat companies be compelled to increase their refrigerated space to provide for at least 60 per cent of their annual kill, and that the Government should import equipment to enable still further increases to be made. It appears however that, apart from some discussions with companies which may have led to very limited extensions of storage space, no further action was taken before war broke out.

One writer, A. A. Ross, throws an interesting slant on the reasons for inactivity in extending cool-storage facilities.2 He says:

‘Preparations were made for some years before 1939 to safeguard the country in the event of war. An organisation known as the Organisation for National Security (O.N.S.) was established to make all necessary preparations against any contingency arising out of a war. Some sections (the term used here to describe committees and sub-committees) of this organisation performed very valuable work indeed, such as the expansion of cool-storage and cold-storage facilities. Separate sections were in charge of separate industries and groups of industries…. To some extent the work of O.N.S. was stultified by a natural reluctance on the part of the Government to undertake any preparations which called for heavy expenditure, and most

1 NZPD, Vol. 246, p. 553. See also extract on p. 31.

2 A. A. Ross, in Wartime Agriculture in Australia and New Zealand, 1939–50, Crawford et al. and Ross, p. 253. Ross, previously Research Officer in the New Zealand Department of Agriculture, wrote as one of a team of authors, by arrangement with the Food Research Institute of Stanford University.

page 44 preparations sooner or later involved this. This reluctance may have been due to the difficult financial position of New Zealand shortly before the war, when the sterling balances in the United Kingdom were at a very low level. Any preparations would have involved spending some of these low reserve funds. There is evidence too that the possibility of a war was heavily discounted, and on this account very few people were prepared to co-operate in making preparations.

‘Some have challenged the allegation that the Government discounted the possibility of war particularly after the Munich crisis of September 1938. The reason for stating here that war was not officially considered to be imminent is that a large number of very sensible suggestions and recommendations went forward from the Primary Industries Section of O.N.S. (a section which dealt with food and agricultural planning), but the majority of these recommendations were rejected outright. It was claimed that the proposals, if carried out, involved the expenditure of overseas funds (which was correct) and that such expenditure was not considered to be both essential and immediate. For instance, such commodities as cork and piping for additional refrigerated storage space could not be imported because the necessary permits could not be obtained from the Exchange Control authorities. The recommendations of many other sections of O.N.S. besides the Primary Industries section were also treated in this manner.’

Ross's work has been criticised, but there is no doubt a good deal of truth in what he writes. Certainly some quite independent information points in the same direction: for example, we have noted that, even as late as May 1939, when a sum of only a little over half a million pounds was earmarked for special import funds to build up reserve stocks, the Reserve Bank took alarm and asked to be consulted ‘before any further large purchases are sanctioned involving the remittance of funds overseas.’1

If the Government was aware of the danger of war, as it seems to have been, it is surprising that economic preparation for war ranked so low amongst import priorities. Or was this a case of political expedience triumphing over prudence?

Whatever the reasons, very little had been done to expand cool storage facilities by the outbreak of war. Discussions with meat companies have already been mentioned.2 They were largely ineffective. By 23 August 1939, the following circular letter to

1 See p. 37.

page 45 companies had been drafted. It would, no doubt, be effective if followed up, but instructions to circulate it were dated 30 August, four days before New Zealand declared war.

Office of the Minister of Agriculture,
Wellington, N.Z.
23rd August 1939

Dear Sirs,

Cool Storage Space: Meat Export

For some time past the position of cool storage at Meat Export slaughterhouses has been giving me some concern. At the beginning of this year my Department carried out a survey of available storage space, and the analysis of this information shows wide variation of cool storage efficiency as between works. As you are aware, the Slaughtering and Inspection Act, 1908, gives me power to refuse the renewal of a meat export slaughterhouse licence if I am of the opinion that the business of the meat export slaughterhouse is being carried out in a manner contrary to the public interest. I considered the position so grave that I have conferred with my colleagues in Cabinet to ascertain whether I should exercise my powers in the direction of requiring a minimum capacity at each works, or at each group of works owned by one company, where such works are reasonably contiguous to one another. After full consideration of the position Cabinet passed the following resolution:

‘Meat companies to be notified immediately that a condition of their meat export licence shall be the provision of cool storage space of a minimum of 60%, this capacity being based on the measurement factors used by the Department of Agriculture. Where a company owns more than one works in one locality, space may be counted over all works as a unit. The provision of storage space must carry with it the obligation to provide efficient freezing equipment: provision of this space and of the necessary equipment to be the obligation of the company concerned.’

In terms of this resolution I wish to notify you that the renewal of your meat export slaughterhouse licence is to be determined in conformity with the terms of Cabinet resolution.

On the 18th of May you were supplied with an analysis of cool storage space at your works. You will therefore be in a position page 46 to judge whether this condition requires any action on your part. If such is the case I would be glad of your immediate cooperation in the direction of formulating plans for submission to my Department so that as far as possible the cool storage position for the forthcoming season will be brought up to a satisfactory state. It is recognised that certain alterations may have taken place since the collection of information at the beginning of the year, or that certain adjustments may be required in respect thereof, and where any doubt exists you should immediately communicate with the Director General of the Department of Agriculture so that the position may be reviewed and your obligations defined. In other words, it is intended that each company's position shall be treated on its merits in the light of the present situation.

I might state that the question of sterling funds required to enable you to import piping, condensors, insulations, etc. has been given consideration, and wherever possible the aim should be to indent through United Kingdom firms so that the minimum of inconvenience will be occasioned in the earmarking of sterling funds.

I shall be glad if you will acknowledge receipt of this advice, and indicate the steps which you are taking to meet the requirements thereof.

Minister of Agriculture

The circular letter to meat companies was presumably signed and despatched in this form.1 The extra storage space became available for the 1940–41 season.2

It was very fortunate that there was no serious stoppage of shipping in the early months of the war.

1 This copy appears on Industries and Commerce file 54/15/1.

2 See also p.185.