Increasing pressure for permanent ban on live cattle exports

By Andrew McRae of RNZ

A noted figure in animal welfare is calling for a total ban on the live export of cattle from this country.

A temporary ban was put in place last week after the ship Gulf Livestock 1 sank in the East China Sea.

The ship went down with 43 crew, including two New Zealanders and nearly 6000 cattle.

The Japan Coastguard is continuing to search, but has scaled it back.

Three crew have been found, two survived and the body of another was recovered.

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, 28,000 cattle are awaiting export and are currently on four quarantine farms.

MPI said the animals were being well looked after and no decision on their future has yet been made.

National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee former chair John Hellstrom believes the temporary ban will be lifted to allow for the cattle to be exported, but after that he wants the practice stopped.

''We've got other technology to get that genetic material over there. It is a very small economic benefit for New Zealand in spite of a few people making money out of it and I very much agree with what (Minister of Agriculture) Damien O'Connor has said in terms of the risk to our national reputation is far greater than the financial benefits that come out of it.''

His main concern was not about how the animals were treated on the ships going over.

''I think in general the welfare management is very good, right through to the point of arrival. My concern is what happens when they get there.

"I have seen a lot of our cattle in different countries around the world and I have to say none of them have been in conditions as they would have been back in New Zealand and some have been in very poor conditions.''

The Veterinary Association is calling for greater transparency and better monitoring of cattle on the ships before any consideration is given to lifting the temporary ban.

Chief Veterinary Officer Helen Beattie said it was essential to have an independent animal welfare scientist on board to do what was called a five domains animal welfare assessment.

''That would then give us a whole bunch of really objective measures to understand what that experience of the actual trip itself looks like and feels like for those animals.'

''It's really hard to make a definitive comment when we really don't have that critical piece of information."

Beattie said that unless a welfare assessment was made, it would be hard to support the resumption in exports.

Waikato vet and farmer Alison Dewes supported the call for improved monitoring of any shipments, but questioned claims the animals were going to be worse off in China.

"Every case is going to be different and I don't think we can use averages or average assumptions that in every live export shipment they are going to go to a worse situation. I just don't think we have that detail."

Dewes expected the ban to be lifted, but she did have concerns about the trade.

"It brings into question how we treat production animals versus our companion animals. Would we send our, for example put horses, cats or dogs that are our close companion pets in the same situation? There is still this differentiation between production animals and how we treat them and our companion animals and yet they are all sentient beings."

The next cattle ship is due in New Zealand within 10 days.

MPI said what happened next was still being discussed between the exporter and the shipping company.