Govt ban on livestock exports a 'knee-jerk reaction' that will hurt farmers - stock agent

A livestock agent in Otago says a Government ban on livestock exports will harm the whole farming industry.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) on Thursday said it would temporarily suspend consideration of cattle livestock exports after the disappearance of a livestock carrier off the coast of Japan.

Gulf Livestock 1 capsized en route to China after leaving Napier last month.

The Panamanian-registered ship was carrying 43 crew members, including two New Zealanders, along with almost 6000 cattle.

Two Filipino crew members have been rescued so far, while a third person whose nationality has not been released later died after being pulled unconscious from the water on Friday.

The two New Zealanders onboard have been identified as Scott Harris and Lochie Bellerby.

The live export trade has been controversial in recent years, with animal rights groups calling for it to be banned. 

A Government review into live exports was undertaken last year, but Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says a decision on the matter has been delayed due to COVID-19.

But Shelley Krieger, a livestock agent based in Balclutha, Otago, says banning the trade would seriously impact the farming sector at a time when it is already struggling.

She says the Government's temporary ban was a "knee-jerk reaction".

"Now that this tragedy has happened, the Government has straightaway done a knee-jerk reaction and they have stopped all live exports which is totally unfair on all the professional companies that are working in New Zealand," Krieger told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today on Tuesday.

"It's a massive money earner for us here and so what they're doing is they're harming the whole industry instead of just looking into that one company to find out what went wrong."

She said the tragedy was "absolutely devastating" from both a human and animal welfare perspective.

"It's brought into the limelight an industry that's been going really, really well," she said. 

She defended conditions onboard livestock ships, saying everyone involved in New Zealand was "very, very professional".

Krieger said the public debate on the issue of livestock exports was often dominated by the views of animal rights groups.

"No farmers are getting up there and none of the dairy export companies are getting up there and saying 'these are our boats, these are our animals, come and have a look'."

She said recent law changes - such as new freshwater regulations - had been particularly challenging for the farming sector and if the Government decides to make the live export ban permanent, it could make things even tougher for the industry.

"It's just so hard out there and I think if they close down the export business that's just another nail in the coffin for farming in New Zealand."

'A tragic marine event'

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor on Tuesday said the disaster was a "terrible, tragic marine event". However, because the ship was sailing under a Panamanian flag and the incident happened off the coast of Japan, New Zealand doesn't "have any clear jurisdiction" to investigate.

O'Connor told RNZ that the Government needed more clarity on what happened "before putting any more stock or any more New Zealanders on a boat like this".

"We need to know that the boat is seaworthy and the competence of the crew means that they're not going to go into such unsafe situations again."

He said although MPI had strict controls over conditions for the animals, it could not influence any decisions made by the ship's captain.

"We have no control over the boat itself. We do have people onboard, we have stock managers, veterinarians...but we can't actually control what happens on the ship itself and where it goes."