As someone totally opposed to live export, I was encouraged and hopeful that things might be changing for the better when New Zealand announced a ban on their live export trade. On face value it seems like a massive win for animal welfare, but is it?
New Zealand banned the export of animals for slaughter in 2008, but has continued to export cattle for breeding, and to supply cows for the dairy industry in China. This is a rapidly growing market and hundreds of thousands of vulnerable pregnant dairy cows continue to be exported.
The trade condemns these poor animals to a life of deprivation and suffering in many destination countries but also subjects them to lengthy and risky sea journeys. It is all too common for these vessels to head straight into disaster.
Live export voyages often end in tragedy
In September 2020 the Gulf Livestock 1 carrying 5,867 live cattle from New Zealand to China capsized and sank. All livestock and 41 crew perished. This is just one extreme example of many such incidents.
New Zealand responded by suspending live export by sea temporarily. Following an independent review by Michael Heron QC, which was released in October, exports were resumed again subject to some tighter controls including increased voyage reporting and reduced stocking density on vessels.
The industry claim animal welfare is of the utmost importance, and yet tragedies and loss of animal life continue to occur. Animals are packed tightly and suffer in poor conditions despite claims to the contrary. Even on ships which reach their destination, many animals still die on the voyage or shortly after arrival.
Poor or non existent animal welfare regulations in destination countries are a major concern
Once they arrive at their destinations they are subject to treatment which is far below standards acceptable in New Zealand. The exporters state they assume the animals will be treated well. This is often not the case, but the industry take no responsibility for the fate of animals providing their profits, hiding behind the claim that they leave New Zealand in good condition and have been well treated prior to boarding the ships.
The government of New Zealand had been reviewing live export for some time prior to this disaster and catastrophic loss of life, and so although they resumed the trade, the decision of whether to ban the trade by sea was still in consideration.
A total ban on live export by sea set to go ahead in New Zealand
New Zealand prides itself on its high animal welfare, but cant control the way the animals shipped will be treated at the destination. Most of the cows exported end up in factory farms in China. Instead of grazing in fields, they are permanently housed in sheds, bedded on sand and are fed grains so their quality of life is greatly diminished. China expects a high milk production from its cows and they are spent quickly. Their life expectancy is shorter than would be the case in New Zealand. Once no longer producing enough milk they are sent to slaughter where they may be subjected to unnecessary cruelty due to poor animal welfare standards.
“The fact is, once animals leave New Zealand by sea we have very limited ability to ensure their wellbeing…that is an unacceptable risk to New Zealand’s reputation. We must stay ahead of the curve in a world where animal welfare is under increasing scrutiny. “
New Zealand Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor
Live Export will be phased out over a two year period
The live export industry in New Zealand are unhappy with the ban and no doubt will try to overturn the decision. The fact that they will have two years to do so makes this a distinct possibility. Other countries will continue the trade and make more profit while New Zealand is disadvantaged economically. It is likely that lobby groups within the industry will put pressure on the New Zealand government to overturn the ban.
The live export industry is extremely lucrative and New Zealand stands to lose around 500 million dollars annually. The number of cows exported to China has been steadily increasing. With the growth in this market, loss of future earnings could be much greater.
Will New Zealand’s ban have any impact?
The Australian live export industry is rubbing it hands in glee at the prospect of picking up the shortfall as New Zealand phases out and eventually ceases its animal export trade by sea.
The Australian government has been very clear that it has no intention to follow New Zealand’s lead. This cruel industry looks likely to continue to expand over coming years. The sad reality is that the number of animals exported is likely to remain the same or even increase worldwide, despite New Zealand’s ban.
New Zealand hasn’t banned its live export by air, and one has to wonder why this is if animal welfare is the reason for the ban of export by sea. Perhaps the export trade by air isn’t as visible so there hasn’t been any public condemnation over this side of the business.
Live export by air also often condemns animals to horrific conditions and treatment at the destination country. A total ban of all live export would have been more logical.
It really isn’t a win for animals unless all countries ban the live export trade. There appears to be some movement in this direction in Europe, so there is hope that New Zealand’s stand may encourage other countries to follow.
Read on for more information about this subject
Press release from Scoop Media New Zealand (with permission)
Monday, 19 April 2021, 5:34 am
Press Release: SAFE NZ
Live Export Ban Should Be Immediate
The two-year phaseout of the export of livestock by sea, announced by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor last week, could mean over 200,000 animals will be shipped overseas before the cruel trade is ended
TVNZ’s ‘Sunday’ programme last night revealed ship wide suffering on the Yangtze Harmony last year, where 49 cows died during a voyage to China, with a further 19 killed after arrival.
SAFE CEO Debra Ashton is calling on the Government to implement an immediate ban. (Safe for Animals – is an organisation based in New Zealand.) More information here
“With the horrific impacts for animals exposed by ‘Sunday,’ including an ‘abortion storm’, there is no reason to delay,” said Ashton
“If the Government is serious about animal welfare, they should move to protect the thousands of animals who will continue to suffer in live export by stopping this trade immediately.”
The ban on the export of livestock by sea has been celebrated by animal welfare advocates and experts. Dr. John Hellstrom, former chair of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee said, “Once again, it has taken the leadership and advocacy of SAFE to achieve a major advance in animal welfare.”
“Without their work this long overdue ban on export of livestock by sea from New Zealand would not have been achieved,” said Hellstrom. “This move [Banning live export] will significantly improve our international animal welfare reputation. Most importantly, it will stop the suffering and distress these animals have had to endure.”
The Agriculture Minister announced last week that the export of livestock by sea would be phased out over two-years. However, the vast majority of animals exported are day-old chicks and aquatic life, who are shipped by air. Over 2.5 million day-old chicks were exported from Aotearoa in 2020. SAFE wants live export by air banned too.
On TVNZ’s ‘Sunday’ programme last night, the Minister admitted he doesn’t know what happens to animals exported overseas. Dr. John Hellstrom said the animals will face a much harder and shorter life than they would have in New Zealand.”
“Our biggest concern has always been the way animals are treated in their destination country,” said Ashton. “All of the countries we export animals to have lower standards of animal welfare than our own. Neither the exporting companies nor the Government know what happens to these animals.”
“We can’t impose our laws on other countries, but we can choose to stop exporting to them immediately.”
Live export is a growing trade and outcomes for the animals involved are never good. To stop animals suffering this trade needs to be banned worldwide. It is sickening that the profits involved totally overshadow the welfare of animals and governments on the whole continue to ignore any opposition.
The New Zealand government is taking a brave stand, but if other countries don’t follow suit, it will be hard for them to maintain their position.
What you can do to help end Live Export
- Support animal welfare groups in your country.
- Contact politicians in your electorate regularly to voice your opposition to the live export trade
- Join public demonstrations if you can and keep the pressure on!