AUSTRALIA’S Government and exporters have backed continuing live sheep and cattle exports despite a New Zealand plan to end all livestock shipments by sea by 2023 being applauded by the RSPCA.
New Zealand has not exported live animals for slaughter since 2003, after 4000 sheep died on a ship bound for Saudi Arabia, and it banned the export of live animals for slaughter in 2007, but breeding stock shipments continued.
New Zealand Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor today said concerns about the risk to the country’s reputation from the trade have been steadily increasing.
He said a review of the trade’s reputational risks and the tragic sinking of the Gulf Livestock 1 vessel in 2020, which drowned 41 crew and about 6000 cattle, had “brought the dangers to a head”, leading to a temporary ban.
Although many recommendations of the subsequent Heron review have been implemented “there remained a level of concern with the welfare of these animals while at sea for up to three weeks,” the minister said.
“The fact is that once animals leave New Zealand by sea, we have very limited ability to ensure their well-being before they reach their destination.
“That’s why this morning, we are announcing, that the export of livestock by sea will cease following a transition period of up to two years,” he said.
“At the heart of our decision is upholding New Zealand’s reputation for high standards of animal welfare.
“New Zealand must stay ahead of the curve in a world where animal welfare is under increasing scrutiny, if we truly want to be the most ethical producers of food.”
Mr O’Connor said although New Zealand has been a small part of the global livestock trade he recognised it has generated additional revenue for some farmers.
“But ultimately we aren’t able to guarantee the welfare of these animals at sea and that is an unacceptable risk to New Zealand’s reputation.
“The transition period of up to two years will allow affected businesses, both in New Zealand and around the world, the time to wind down their trade and adjust their operations,” he said.
“This is a complex process to unwind, so the final exact length of the transition period will determined pending further advice the Ministry for Primary Industries.”
The NZ decision does not apply to shipments of livestock by air.
No plans to suspend or ban live animals exports – Littleproud
Australia’s Minister for Agriculture, Water and the Environment David Littleproud said the phasing out of NZ animal exports by sea is a matter for the New Zealand government “and Australia has no plans to suspend or ban live animal exports.”
“The Federal Government is confident in our standards, regulations and laws to ensure high standards of animal welfare for livestock exports,” he said.
“The Australian Government continues to support the live animal exports trade and its contribution to the Australian economy.”
Australian exporters sympathise with NZ farmers
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council today expressed its sympathies with its New Zealand colleagues following NZ Government decision.
“This is understandably disappointing news, particularly for New Zealand producers that rely on the trade for competition in their livestock markets as well as their international trading partners,” ALEC chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said.
“It is important to note that the Australian and New Zealand industries are very different in terms of their scale, market dynamics and regulatory processes.
“The Australian industry will continue to be a world leader in livestock exports and continues play a critical role in providing food security for our trading partners as well as providing competition in the market for Australian producers,” he said.
“We have full confidence in the standards the Australian industry upholds and expect the impacts of the New Zealand decision to have limited bearing on the strength of the Australian industry and its continuing growth.”
NZ decision is a wake-up call for Australia – RSPCA
RSPCA Australia senior policy officer Dr Jed Goodfellow said the NZ decision should be a wake-up call for the Australian Government.
“The export of live animals has arguably damaged Australian farming’s reputation more than any other practice.
“It is inherently high-risk, with decades of repeated evidence of suffering and cruelty,” Dr Goodfellow said.
“We’ve seen tragedy after tragedy involving Australian animals on live export ships.
“Many thousands of animals have died while countless more have suffered terribly, but survived to face an uncertain fate overseas.”
Dr Goodfellow said New Zealand has made the right decision, “and with it, is securing its international reputation as a world leader in high quality, ethical agricultural products – while Australia is left behind yet again.”
“The export of live animals for slaughter has been banned in New Zealand for nearly 15 years, but here, the trade still continues in its entirety.
“While there’s quite rightly a lot of attention given to the live export of sheep and cattle for slaughter, the news today is also a reminder there are serious welfare issues involving the export of live animals for dairy and breeding,” he said.
“Australia exported 170,657 breeding cattle last year, primarily to China and Pakistan – and there are no laws to protect them once they’re there.
“This is a sleeper issue and a crisis waiting to happen again. The Australian Government must act immediately to close these loopholes,” Dr Goodfellow said.
“Today’s news out of New Zealand shows what leadership is, and that reform is possible.
“The RSPCA has been working to end the live export trade for decades and we’ll continue to do so until that happens.”