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Citing animal welfare concerns, Goverment confirms it will end live exports

The Government today has officially announced it is going to end the live animal exports by sea within two years.

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Minister Damien O’Connor says there were growing concerns the trade was harming New Zealand’s reputation. Source: 1 NEWS

The announcement comes amid a months-long investigation by TVNZ’s Sunday programme into the conditions endured by cattle at sea. 1 NEWS exclusively revealed the upcoming move yesterday. 

Damien O'Connor, Minister of Agriculture and Minister for Trade and Export Growth, said this morning there were “steadily increasing” concerns New Zealand's reputation would be harmed because of the trade. 

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

The ban would be in place after a transition period of up to two years, with a final timeframe to be announced after further advice from the Ministry of Primary Industries, he said.

When 1 NEWS asked if he'd be comfortable with letting the practice continue for two more years, despite animal welfare issues, O'Connor said the process to wind down the practice was "complex" and that the Government had to be "fair" to traders and allow a transition period.

“We do accept that there’s risks on every shipment that goes out. We’ve done our best to minimise those."

The industry was thrust into the spotlight after the Gulf Livestock capsized last September in the East China Sea after leaving Napier.

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The industry was thrust into the spotlight last September after a livestock ship capsized in the East China Sea after leaving Napier. Source: 1 NEWS

Forty-one crew, including two New Zealanders on board, died alongside nearly 6000 cattle.

Following that, the Government temporarily banned exports of live cattle, but allowed them to resume late last year with promises of improvements to the process.

Now they've changed their minds again, with plans to scrap the trade completely.

O’Connor said today many of the recommendations from a 2019 review of the trade had been introduced. But there were still growing calls for the ban. 

“There remains an ongoing level of concern with the welfare of these animals while being at sea for up to three weeks,” he said.

“The fact is that once animals leave New Zealand by sea, we have very limited ability to ensure their wellbeing before they reach their destination.”

O’Connor said he recognises some farmers would have earned additional income from the trade. But he said there is too much risk to New Zealand's reputation.

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The industry adds about $200 million to the economy, Federated Farmers' national dairy chairman and animal welfare spokesperson Wayne Langford told Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

World Animal Protection New Zealand welcomed the move and thanked O'Connor for "finally phasing out the abhorrent live export trade".

“The New Zealand Governments’ announcement to phase out live exports in the coming years is a significant moment in our history for animals, one which other governments around the world must now follow, including Australia," executive director Simone Clarke said.

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

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

“This is an ill-informed, massively consequential decision for the nation, to earn short-term political brownie points from a few activists,” Hayman said. 

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Joe Fleetwood says there has been issues with the engine of the Gulf Livestock 1 ship which sunk near Japan. Source: Breakfast

He said the trade is being conducted “humanely” with “world-leading standards” in New Zealand.

“There is no morality in removing half a billion dollars from our economy and forcing the early deaths of up to 150,000 animals a year.”

Last year, nearly 110,000 cattle were exported from New Zealand to China. That's a nearly threefold increase from the year before.

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.

Hayman said the decision may lead to China taking "offence" and threatened New Zealand's Free Trade Agreement with the country.

But O'Connor said the decision was "not about China", and that Beijing would understand New Zealand's position.

"It’s about animal welfare. We have a mature relationship with them [China].”

He said there hadn't been pressure from foreign governments to carry out the ban.

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Two New Zealanders were on-board the the Gulf Livestock 1 when it capsized. Source: Breakfast

Meanwhile, ACT MP Mark Cameron said the decision was an "emotive" one that "ignores the evidence and is a kick in the guts for the rural sector".

The party's primary industries spokesperson and dairy farmer said live exports are a "critical revenue stream" for the rural sector. 

“Dairy cows exported live can earn a farmer between $1800 and $2000, but on the local market fetch between $1400 and $1600.

“This ban won’t improve animal welfare because live exports from New Zealand will be replaced by exports from other countries with lower animal welfare standards.

“Farmers care about how their animals are treated for and some have travelled to China to check on them," Cameron said.