Lifting The Ban On Live Animal Export: Let's Get Angry!
Author: Lynley Tulloch (with Paul Judge)
I am a big Jacinda Ardern fan on the whole. But I am also an angry Jacinda Ardern fan and here is why: the inexcusable recent decision by the Labour government to lift the temporary ban on live exports.
Let’s talk about that because this is one election issue that did not get much coverage. Labour especially was tight-lipped over the live animal export issue in the lead up to the election.
Ardern said she has ‘significant concerns’ about live animal export but left it there. It was an extremely non-committal comment. And now, like many other concerning things, the hint of a promise to address it is blowing away on the wind.
Don’t get me wrong, I was happy Labour got in. What I really wanted though, was a government who would also go to the ends of the Earth and back for animals. Animals in New Zealand are often given a raw deal.
Sometimes they end up at the bottom of the ocean and many of our politicians don’t seem to really care.
If animals appear in election promises it is often merely a cursory mention, and then they vanish into the ethers again.
Or onto a live export boat. Either way, they are not coming home again.
So let’s talk about live export and the ship that sank last month after inexplicably sailing straight into the eye of a cyclone in the East China sea. Let’s talk about the 40 human lives that were lost. Let’s revisit the 6000 cows who went down with the ship and who have become nothing more than fish fodder.
Let’s get angry.
The Labour government has some great policies for people and likes to talk about kindness and compassion. They don’t much like anger. But there is a place for anger in democratic societies – and that is when a huge injustice is being swept aside and ignored. Like live animal export.
The story so far: Following the sinking of the Livestock Gulf 1 on 3 September, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) called for a temporary ban on live exports. MPI launched a review into conditions on board live export ship, carried out by Mike Heron QC.
There was hope that live export might be acknowledged for the atrocity that it is and banned. Yet just weeks later the ban was lifted and live export from New Zealand shores can restart anytime from 24 October. A new shipment is scheduled to depart from Napier on 3 November.
So it seems that the temporary ban was of little to no significance.
The outcome of the Heron Review is that there will be a strengthening of parts of the Animal Welfare Export Certificate (AWEC) process. This includes tinkering with stocking density numbers so that it is now 90% of current limits. There will be focused maritime inspections of livestock carriers entering New Zealand. There will also be increases in veterinary reporting and minimum fodder requirements.
While these changes might satisfy some people, they don’t impress me much. They are nothing but a slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket. This decision to continue with live animal exports is very unkind.
So unkind it makes me angry.
A recent analysis of livestock ships has demonstrated that they are nearly twice as likely to be lost at sea as standard cargo ships. An estimated eighty per cent of cargo ships were never designed to carry animals. They are converted container or even passenger ships.
In plain language, the decision to continue with livestock export puts both human and animal lies at risk for financial gain and profit. I know that the economy is important, but this is unconscionable. Imagine how unkind the government is, to allow this to continue, when New Zealanders lives were lost and families are still grieving.
And to dismiss the suffering of the cows on board is also unacceptable. Even if livestock ships don’t sink, animals suffer horrifically on live export ships. No amount of tinkering with regulations will change that. The conditions are cramped because of high stocking densities. It can get extremely hot on board, especially when crossing the equator, and there is poor ventilation. Animal waste generates ammonia gas which irritates the animals’ eyes and nose and respiratory tracts. Rough seas can cause injuries and some animals die on board.
Many of the animals on board are pregnant due to being shipped for ‘breeding purposes’. Once they arrive at their destination (if they ever do), they give birth and are then milked for years in intensive farming operations.
They go to countries where the animal welfare standards are not as high as New Zealand. Once their milking lives are over, they may well be killed while fully conscious.
These animals cannot be guaranteed a life of high welfare. Even in New Zealand we get animal welfare wrong a lot of the time. But we have animal welfare codes that have to legally be adhered to. So why is it even legal that we can send living animals outside of our jurisdiction? What are we doing allowing these animals to be put on ships where it has already been fully documented that they suffer?
I can't imagine a worse horror for an animal than to be confined in a sinking ship. Of course, there are many horrors for animals, but this must be at the top of the list, and certainly one that resonates with a lot of ordinary Kiwis.
It’s not fair, it’s not kind, it’s not on the right side of history and we need to speak up loudly. Ardern’s ‘significant concerns’ may have sunk to the bottom of the ocean with the boat, but we don’t have to accept it.
The call to permanently ban live exports was an election issue that is now floating away on the breeze.
Let’s keep the pressure up and speak out against live animal exports.