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Amid calls for immediate action, Ardern defends two-year cutoff for live animal export ban by sea

Amid calls from an animal rights group for an immediate ban of live animal exports by sea, Jacinda Ardern has defended the Government’s up to two-year transition period to wind down the trade. 

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The Prime Minister says because an entire industry was being wound down, those in the sector needed time to adjust. Source: Breakfast

“We’ve given it up to two years. The reason for that is because we will have operators who have legitimate orders in place,” the Prime Minister told Breakfast. 

“We are winding down an entire industry here.”

The Government announced it would be banning the trade last week. It came amid a months-long investigation by TVNZ’s Sunday programme into the controversial trade. Last night, the programme showed inside footage of a live cattle shipment that left Napier earlier this month.

This morning, animal rights organisation SAFE said while it welcomed the announcement, the Government should consider making the ban immediate. 

"Two years is two years too long," SAFE chief executive Debra Ashton said.

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CEO Debra Ashton says the ban should cover not just exports by sea, but also by air. Source: 1 NEWS

"With the horrific impacts for animals exposed by Sunday, including an ‘abortion storm’, there is no reason to delay.

"Hundreds of thousands of animals are going to suffer in this two year bracket and that's why the minister needs to make a call now and say 'no more'. He's going to make this call immediate and address the issue right here and right now.”

She also called for the ban to be extended to include live exports by air.

"The majority of our farmed animals are actually day-old baby chicks which are being put into containers - flown over to countries all around the world," Ashton said.

"We've also had eels and crayfish, we've got sheep and goats - they're all going by air as well. But a lot of people don't know about that."

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Ardern this morning told Breakfast the standards expected for the welfare of animals would be increased during the transition period. 

She said the Government had to balance the needs of industry with animal welfare concerns.

The Government had decided to ban live exports by sea in particular because it had concerns it could take up to three weeks for animals to arrive at some destinations, Ardern said. 

She added: “Some have said we should get rid of live exports by air freight. In our minds, that wasn’t necessary. That is the kind of balanced decision we’re always having to make.”

However, Damien O'Connor, Minister of Agriculture and Minister for Trade and Export Growth, told Sunday he didn’t know what happened to animals exported overseas.

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Sunday looks at how New Zealand's live export industry operated under the radar for decades. Source: Sunday

“We don’t always know … there’s a lot of money paid for them, for mostly breeding purposes and I’m sure that they’re well looked after,” O’Connor said, adding that it was an “assumption”.

O'Connor said there were “steadily increasing” concerns New Zealand's reputation would be harmed because of the trade. But, he said the two-year phasing out period was “only fair” – giving time for traders to “transition out” of live animal exports.

Decision is 'morally and practically unjustified', say those who oppose the ban

Despite support in many corners over the decision, there is opposition.

Animal Genetics Trade Association is among the groups that have lashed out against the decision, calling the ban “morally and practically unjustified”.

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The Government is bringing in a ban on livestock exports, taking effect in 2023. Source: 1 NEWS

Spokesperson and exporter Dave Hayman said the move would hurt farmers financially and require the premature slaughter of thousands of livestock every year.

He has been sending live cattle overseas for 20 years and has been lobbying intensively to continue.

“Farmers do have surplus animals to sell and if we don’t export them, then the likelihood is that those animals will be culled at a very young age. It would be devastating to our farmers not to have that option,” he told 1 NEWS following the announcement last week.

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He said about 150,000 surplus heifer calves would probably need to be slaughtered every year.

Wayne Langford from Federated Farmers said farmers were mixed in their response.

“It would probably be a 50/50 split to be fair.

“We know it’s a contentious issue but quite surprised they’ve gone to a complete ban and not worked with industry further," Langford said.

In 2019, the value of livestock exports was $54 million. That's 0.1 per cent of the total value of New Zealand's primary product exports.