New Zealand cows sent to Sri Lanka diseased, dying, failing to produce milk - report

The ABC report said hundreds of cows have died and the rest have turned out "overpriced, unhealthy and infertile."
The ABC report said hundreds of cows have died and the rest have turned out "overpriced, unhealthy and infertile." Photo credit: Newshub

Sri Lankan farmers are reportedly suicidal after going broke in a dairy deal with Australia and New Zealand that's turned sour.

Out of 5000 imported cattle so far, hundreds have died and the rest have turned out "overpriced, unhealthy and infertile", according to report by Australia's ABC News. 

One Sri Lankan farmer who bought 200 cattle told ABC they were in a poor condition on arrival.

"My staff said it looks like they have not come from Australia. Looks like they come from Ethiopia," said Amal Suriyage.

He lost 160 of the cows he bought and another 180 calves, and the rest will have to be culled because they've got Mycoplasma bovis.

"I think I have a cemetery, not a farm anymore."

Others are reportedly suicidal after mortgaging their homes to buy cattle, which are producing less than promised and costing twice as much to feed. 

Animal rights groups are now calling for the deal, reportedly sanctioned by the previous New Zealand Government, to be called off and live exports to be ended.

"Live export corporations are sending animals to far-flung countries where untold horrors could await them. The horrific images from ABC today prove that," said Hans Kriek of New Zealand's SAFE. 

"Once a cow leaves New Zealand shores, we have no idea what happens to her. The European Union is ahead of New Zealand on this. They voted in February to end the live export of animals to countries that fall below their animal welfare standards. We need to follow their lead. 

"Our reputation is at risk if the Government allows animals to be exported into such appalling conditions."

The cows were shipped by Australian company Wellard, which told ABC the scheme was a success, and the "handful" of farmers having problems were ignoring advice on how to run their farms.

"They were all passed fit for purpose, and in terms of the pregnancy issue, all the dairy heifers were signed off as pregnant when they went onto the ship," said executive chairman John Klepec. 

"What happens post-delivery of the cattle is subject to the farm management. Poor farm management practices will produce poor outcomes."

Another 15,000 cows are expected to be shipped over in the next 12 months, despite critics saying the climate in Sri Lanka is unsuitable.

"It's been, from what we can see, a fairly unmitigated disaster from a human and animal welfare perspective," Animals Australia spokesman Tim Vasudeva told ABC.

"We do have formal frameworks for the export of cattle for slaughter, but not for dairy and breeder cattle - so basically that means those welfare protections just aren't there."

Local group the Ceylon Cattle Farmers Association wants farmers to be reimbursed for their losses and the scheme halted.

Meanwhile, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) told RNZ that the New Zealand shipment was subject to all usual export approval procedures.

In a statement, it said: "All exporters are expected to meet high standards to receive an Animal Welfare Exports Certificate. An MPI veterinarian will only issue the certificate if all requirements for the welfare of the animals have been met.

"These requirements include the health status of animals before departure, meet requirements around water, food, space, and facilities during the voyage and having suitably experienced stockmen and/or veterinarians on board.

"They must also have medicines and equipment for treating any animals that become unwell during the journey."

The statement said MPI does not have jurisdiction after the animals arrived at their destination.

It said there have been no repeat shipments of cattle to Sri Lanka after controversy surrounding the fate of 2000 cows shipped there in 2017, and there had been no applications for any subsequent shipments.

Fonterra has confirmed that it was not involved in the deal, a spokesperson saying it does not export cows to Sri Lanka. 

"Our focus is working with local small-scale farmers in Sri Lanka who have herd sizes of 5-15 cows to ensure they can produce high quality milk from healthy, well cared for cows," they said.