Protest in Timaru as live cattle exports resume

Protesters are gathering in Timaru on Wednesday as the world's largest livestock vessel prepares to take thousands of cattle to China.

The shipment follows the capsizing of the Gulf Livestock 1 in September, which sank off the coast of Japan with 43 crew onboard - including two New Zealanders - and almost 6000 cattle after leaving Napier bound for China.

Forty of those crew members remain missing, presumed dead.

Immediately after that incident, the Ministry for Primary Industries placed a temporary ban on livestock exports and ordered a review of the practice.

The shipment leaving Timaru - on the vessel Ocean Drover - is the first to take place during a conditional prohibition period introduced by the Government following the review.

As a result of that review, which was conducted by Mike Heron QC, exporters are now subject to additional requirements, such as restricted stocking densities, increased voyage reporting and increased minimum fodder for cattle.

Animals rights group SAFE say Wednesday's protest in an attempt to send a message to the Government to stop live exports for good.

"When these ships come to New Zealand, people protest, because they’re appalled by this cruel trade," SAFE spokesperson Will Appelbe said on Wednesday.

"The incoming Government has a strong mandate to quickly create change. They must end the export of live animals."

On Tuesday SAFE, along with Taranaki Animal Rights Group, presented a petition signed by more than 12,000 people to the Taranaki Regional Council calling for a ban on live exports from Port Taranaki.

New Zealand only exports cattle for breeding purposes, but SAFE says it's impossible to know how animals are treated when they leave our shores.

Around 24,000 cows were in pre-quarantine due to be exported when the Government's temporary ban came into effect. 

With more livestock vessels expected to depart New Zealand in the coming week, Appelbe said exporters were rushing to get the animals out of the country.

"We almost can’t keep up with the number of live export ships heading to our shores, but their presence isn’t lost on the locals.'

Dr Chris Rodwell, MPI veterinarian and director for animal health and welfare, told Newshub stock numbers for this shipment were set at no more than 7945 cattle. 

The conditional prohibition period came into force on October 24 and runs until November 30.

"During this period the Director-General of MPI (or his delegate) may consider the export of livestock by sea subject to any conditions deemed necessary following the Heron review," said Dr Rodwell.

Last year the Government began a broader review into the practice of live exports, though a decision has been held up due to COVID-19.