Government to strengthen rules around live cattle exports after sinking of Gulf Livestock 1

The Government is set to strengthen rules around live cattle exports following the sinking of Gulf Livestock 1.

The livestock carrier went missing in the East China Sea in early September after leaving Napier bound for China.

Forty-three crew members were on board - including two New Zealanders - when the ship was lost.

It was also carrying almost 6000 cattle.

Following the sinking, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) put a temporary ban on live cattle exports and ordered an independent review to be conducted by Mike Heron QC.

On Friday, MPI released that review, saying extra requirements would now be put in place for exporters.

"Our review found that while the system is robust, there are changes that can be made now to boost the assurances MPI receives," Heron said.

MPI director-general Ray Smith said a number of immediate changes would come into effect for a conditional prohibition period of between October 24 and November 30.

The changes include:

  • Focused maritime inspection of livestock carrier ships entering New Zealand to transport livestock by Maritime New Zealand as an additional safeguard
  • Restricting stocking density on vessels to 90 percent of current limits to match new Australian standards
  • Increased requirements for voyage reporting, including daily veterinary reports during voyages
  • Increased minimum fodder requirements that ensure at least 20 percent of feed is available for unplanned delays during the voyage.

Smith said MPI was also considering longer-term changes suggested by the review, such as requiring more information in Animal Welfare Export Certification (AWEC) applications and reviewing current rules, guidance and regulations.

"Advice will be provided soon to the incoming government on the wider policy review, which started in 2019, and the independent reviewers' report will help inform that work. Included in the advice will be further consideration of lower stock density rates for shipments," Smith said.

He said during the conditional prohibition period MPI would have the discretion to consider applications for AWECs for livestock exports by sea and certification would not be granted unless all requirements were met.

"We are working closely with exporters to ensure the new requirements are well understood."

The conditional prohibition period gives certainty to thousands of cattle due to be exported when the temporary ban was put in place. Those animals were left in limbo in special containment areas while a decision on their fate was made.

"We've moved quickly following the Heron review to ensure no serious animal welfare issue for the 24,000 cows in pre-export quarantine, which would likely have to be slaughtered if interim measures weren’t put in place," Smith said.

"We want to ensure they are moved safely. It's important to note New Zealand does not export animals for slaughter, but as breeding stock."

'Tinkering around the edges'

Animal rights group SAFE on Friday dismissed the changes to export rules as "tinkering around the edges".

The group has long called for a permanent ban on live cattle exports, citing cruelty to the animals.

They say despite the Government's insistence that animals are only exported for breeding purposes it's impossible to know how they are treated after leaving New Zealand.

"We're seriously concerned about what will happen to these animals in the destination country, and these recommendations won't change that," said SAFE's chief executive Debra Ashton, who took part in the review.

Ashton called for the Government to release the findings of a broader review into the practice of live exports which was undertaken last year.

"The new, Labour-led Government will be completely misreading the mood of the nation if they don't ban live export," Ashton said.

Earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said a decision from that review had been delayed due to COVID-19.