Animal rights groups dismiss MPI live export review as 'stalling', industry says it could cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars

Animal rights group SAFE says the Government's independent review into livestock exports is mere "stalling" and akin to doing nothing.

On Friday, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) announced a review would be undertaken to look at the assurances it receives when it considers an application for an Animal Welfare Export Certificate (AWEC) required for the export of live animals.

The review comes after the Gulf Livestock 1 capsized and sank off the coast of Japan last week. The vessel had a crew of 43 onboard - including two New Zealanders - and almost 6000 cattle.

Three crew members have been found by rescuers, with one of those later dying.

Immediately after the incident MPI said it would be temporarily suspending consideration of cattle livestock exports. That was followed by Friday's announcement that an independent review would be launched.

The review will be led by Mike Heron QC and is expected to take around a month.

It will look at the assurances MPI receives when it considers an application for an Animal Welfare Export Certificate (AWEC) required for exports of live animals.

While it is underway the temporary suspension will remain in place. 

Animal rights campaigners have long sought for live exports to be banned, citing animal cruelty concerns. A review into the practice was launched by the Government last year but a decision was held up by COVID-19.

Now, the sinking of Gulf Livestock 1 has thrown the issue back into the limelight and animal rights groups are calling for the Government to release their findings from the review immediately.

Marianne Macdonald, campaigns manager for SAFE, on Friday said MPI was merely "stalling" by announcing the latest review.

"This seems to be MPI's response to everything," Macdonald said. "We’re still waiting for the review that was announced last year."

"Tens of thousands of Kiwis have sent messages to the Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister calling for this cruel trade to be banned."

World Animal Protection also called for a ban.

"New Zealand products are known as premium products around the world, and we trade in our good name and reputation," Simone Clarke, executive director of World Animal Protection New Zealand, said on Friday.

"MPI and future governments should recognise that the risks of continuing this cruel, dangerous trade outweigh the benefits, and that we need to end it once and for all."

Many in the industry are defending live exports, however, saying animals are well looked after while at sea. 

Earlier this week Shelley Krieger, a livestock agent based in Balclutha, Otago, said the tragedy was 'absolutely devastating" from both a human and animal welfare perspective. But she said conditions onboard livestock vessels leaving New Zealand were "very, very professional". She also said a ban on live exports would "harm the whole industry".

The Animal Genetics Trade Association (AGTA) said farmers' income was at risk with the "open-ended review", saying it "may require the cancellation of close to $200 million in contracts between now and December".

“The safe shipping of people and animals to their destinations is hugely important to our trade," the association said in a statement on Friday.

"We support this part of the review and need to learn how whatever happened to the ship can be prevented in future exports. However, a necessary review of ship safety following a maritime disaster has inexplicably morphed into an unnecessary wider review into the welfare of animals."

The association said the tragedy was first and foremost a maritime disaster and "should be treated as such".

"The welfare of the animals during export voyages is a different issue from the safety of people and animals following the capsize of Gulf Livestock 1."

According to MPI around 28,000 cattle on four quarantine farms are currently awaiting export.

The ministry said all the animals were being well looked after and no decision on their future had yet been made.