The New Zealand Government last year announced a wholesale ban on livestock exports by sea, a decision that has caused significant upheaval in the rural sector as farmers and producers attempt to adjust to the legislation.
The Government’s decision has left many in the industry incredulous, with exporters calling the intervention short-sighted. Live exporters say transporting live exports by sea allows animals to be sent across the world with high standards of physical and sentient safety and comfort.
Mark Willis, the chairman of Livestock Export New Zealand, says his industry lobbied the Government for several years, “unsuccessfully”, “to tighten industry regulation to ensure that every trader of live animals does so with high standards of animal welfare and safety”.
According to Willis, industry operators already meet and exceed New Zealand’s requirements and leading global standards. He says operators “have long asked for a more effective regulation and licencing regime”.
Key industry participants, recognising the failings in the old regulatory system, proposed a 12-point regulatory framework as part of MPI’s Livestock Export Review in 2020. The export sector believes an enhanced regulatory regime would serve New Zealand better than an outright ban.
According to Live Export New Zealand, the Minister and MPI provided positive feedback about the performance of the industry until the tragic sinking of another country’s ship carrying livestock, and the loss of a New Zealand stockman’s life. This prompted Cabinet to ignore official advice and announce the ban.
The industry says it welcomes stronger regulation and has proposed a global-best practice system to Government.
Exporters say their regulatory model is performance-based, with all potential exporters licensed by the Ministry for Primary Industries. Such a system would be driven by a Gold Standard for animal welfare in the livestock export trade based on new research into animal sentient and physical well-being.
The proposed system would be a steep change-up on current international best practice, encompassing management before and during the voyage. There would be specialist veterinarians onboard every vessel to reduce risks (a practice already followed by leading operators), while robust and comprehensive reporting systems would be in place throughout the export process, including at the destination.
The industry’s plan would span three phases:
Phase One, before export, would ensure that only stock of acceptable weight and fertility status was accepted for export; that quarantine facilities met a certified standard; and that there were suitable transition arrangements to ensure cattle had developed prior palate and appetite for on-board fodder.
It would not be permitted to carry cattle below a certain weight, or beyond the early stages of pregnancy.
High performing quarantine operators and exporter/importers already do this as a standard. But under this regime, such standards would become mandatory for everyone in the sector.
Phase Two, which covers loading and voyage, would regulate the weight of animals being carried, remove the risk of overloading a vessel, require a management plan for lighter animals to ensure their safety, including additional space and supervision, and priority access to feed.
There would also be a scientific review of space requirements for cattle on board the vessel to support global best practice.
To provide evidence that adequate animal welfare standards are maintained, formal reporting would be required on bedding and ventilation by onboard stockpersons and veterinary personnel.
Additionally, regular reporting would be required to ensure transparency and accuracy in post-voyage reporting.
Phase Three, post-arrival and follow-up, requires that a risk register framework be established to ensure the exporters considers and proactively manages post-arrival risk to ensure optimum animal welfare outcomes for the livestock.
This would include sustained monitoring, ensuring that standards as good as those in New Zealand, if not better, are maintained.
Live Export New Zealand believes its proposed system is a “very comprehensive”, sensible alternative to a blanket ban.
“It assures exemplary treatment: farm to farm, purpose-built ships, low density, specially trained veterinarians and stock people, extra food and water, ventilation throughout transit, and post arrival welfare assurance,” Willis says.
According to Live Export New Zealand, two independent reviews by impartial outsiders in recent years have concluded that services run by LENZ members uniformly provided high standards of safety, comfort, and care.
The organization says animals are statistically safer at sea than on Western feedlots and farms.
Willis describes animal exports as a “very valuable and important trade”, and one that should be strengthened and regulated rather than abolished, as New Zealand businesses look to recover from a pandemic that has already damaged livelihoods.
Animal exports by sea bridges the gap between regions of the world with an excess of natural pasture resources and nations that do not have the pasture to host breeding in-country. For instance, China and Japan do not have the ability to meet their developmental nutritional requirements without importing breeding stock.”
Willis explains that New Zealand does not export animals for slaughter — only for breeding. He believes the ban could have a disastrous effect on the rural sector.
“This ban is about cattle for breeding purposes, not sheep for slaughter in the Middle East. It puts a multi-million-dollar export industry at risk and negatively impacts the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and across communities in New Zealand.”
“This trade will go on with or without New Zealand’s involvement. The Gold Standard of care proposed by LENZ will ensure that New Zealand leads the world in livestock export by sea, demonstrating what is possible. As a nation, we could form a strong base and lobby other countries to follow our lead.
“Adopting the Gold Standard and engaging with our trading partners on animal welfare, gives New Zealand an opportunity to be seen as a world leader in this area. It offers positive gains for New Zealand’s international reputation, as both a nation that cares deeply for all creatures, alongside the well-being and development of other citizens around the world.”
For more information, visit https://www.livestockexports.nz