Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, a prominent supporter of banning live exports, is pushing back on warnings from officials that it "would cause an economic loss" for the rural sector.
A Regulatory Impact Statement by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says banning live exports "would cause an economic loss" and "make recovery from COVID-19 more difficult in the rural communities where livestock exports provide an additional source of income".
It goes on to say: "MPI's view is that reputational impacts are real, but difficult to quantify… These risks should be taken seriously but can be managed through enhancing the regulatory framework."
Swarbrick, the Green Party's animal welfare spokesperson, says banning live exports is the right thing to do because of the "lack of transparency" on ships that transfer the animals.
"We rely on a clean and green image with supposedly high standards of animal welfare, but next to nobody - let alone the ministry - can actually say what happens on these live export ships," she told Newshub.
"There's a reason the often rather careful, considered and conservative independent National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee advised the practice should end. The practice is just not good news, whichever way you slice it."
But ACT MP Mark Cameron, a Northland dairy farmer, says the Government's ban was "purely an emotive and ideological decision". He's lashing out at Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor for not listening to advice from officials.
"Despite the overwhelming evidence that the ban was a bad idea, Damien O'Connor pushed ahead anyway, unable to put the needs of our rural communities first. Farmers kept the economy going through COVID. All it gets in return from Labour are policies that punish them."
O'Connor did not respond to Newshub's request for comment.
The Government announced in April it would ban the export of livestock by sea following a transition period of up to two years.
Live exports represented about 0.2 percent of New Zealand's primary sector exports revenue since 2015. The advice from MPI says the direct value of New Zealand's livestock exports was $261.5 million for the year ending December 2020.
O'Connor acknowledged at the time that MPI's review of live exports, which started in 2019, identified mixed perceptions of the activity. But, like Swarbrick, he pointed out that the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee advised that it stop.
O'Connor said during the transition period, exporters would have to meet extra requirements introduced following the independent Heron report, which was carried out after the tragic loss of the Gulf Livestock 1 in the East China Sea in September last year.
The requirements include more ship inspections, increased voyage reporting, restricting stocking density on vessels to 90 percent of current limits, and guaranteed livestock feed available for unplanned delays during a voyage.
Reactions to the ban were mixed. While animal rights group SAFE was disappointed that live exports would continue for years to come, Federated Farmers argued that standards were already bolstered following the Heron report.
"Our farmers care deeply about animal welfare," said Federated Farmers spokesperson Wayne Langford. "The Government has seen fit to bring in this ban but Federated Farmers has no information about any breaches of the high standards relating to livestock exports."
But SAFE CEO Debra Ashton said the world is watching as our Government turns a blind eye to the suffering of these animals.
"Given that the decision to ban live export by sea was prompted by animal welfare concerns and the risk to New Zealand's International reputation, how can the Government allow this trade to continue for two more years?"
Swarbrick says the small live export sector has a "hugely disproportionate impact on our reputation internationally and therefore on the far larger components of agriculture exports".
"The veil has been pulled back on that lack of transparency by multiple undercover journalist endeavours, and it is not a pretty sight, for workers or the animals on these ships."