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SPCA Urges Government Ministers To Stop Live Exports Of Farmed Animals

SPCA is calling for a ban on the live export of farmed animals by sea from New Zealand ahead of the impending Cabinet decision on the future of the live export trade.

SPCA Chief Executive Andrea Midgen and SPCA’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr Arnja Dale have sent letters to Ministers urging them to ‘do the right thing’ and enact a total ban on live exports.

The current trade in the live export of farmed animals for breeding, combined with the Animal Welfare (Export of Livestock for Slaughter) Regulations 2016, which permit the export of farmed animals for slaughter with approval from the MPI Director General, sends a clear message to the world that New Zealand does not care about the fate of its farmed animals once they leave New Zealand shores.

Ms Midgen says Ministers have the opportunity to listen to the majority of New Zealanders who share SPCA’s concerns that there are significant welfare fears over live exports.

“There are a number of recent incidents which have seen thousands of animals die on ships bound for overseas ports, and we’ve now reached a point where enough is enough,” she says.

“Quite simply, we have blood on our hands. Cabinet has a responsibility to show that animal welfare is indeed important to our country. It is up to our government to ensure that animals bred in this country are treated humanely throughout their lives and are not exposed to handling, rearing or slaughter practices that would be contrary to New Zealand’s laws and regulations,” Ms Midgen says.

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For many years, SPCA has advocated for a total ban on the live export of farmed animals, whether for slaughter or breeding purposes and the long history of disasters accompanying such journeys (see table below for recent examples) supports this position.

Given the frequency of these events, and a recent investigation revealing ships carrying live animals are at least twice as likely to suffer a ‘total loss’ as compared to standard cargo vessels (Kevany 2020), it cannot be claimed that these disasters are unforeseen or uncommon.

Summary of live export catastrophic incidents reported in the media: 

Year Location No. and type of animals Outcome References 
2021 Suez Canal

20 ships carrying animals stranded

Animal numbers unknown

Recently stranded with insufficient feed and water Kevany and Safi 2021 

1,700 cattle

864young bulls

Culling for welfare reasons in progress

Kevany and Kassam 2021a

Kevany and Kassam 2021b

2020 New Zealand 6,000 pregnant cows Ship capsized - death by drowning Ives et al 2020 
2019 Romania 14,000 sheep Ship capsized - death by drowning

Skerrett 2019

Ng 2019

2017 Australia 2,400 sheep Died on board – heat stress Wahlquist 2018 
2014 Australia 4,000 sheep Died on board – heat stress Towie 2014

Dr Dale says in addition to the high-profile catastrophic events listed above and the reputational risk of this trade, SPCA is concerned about the many factors that impact upon the welfare of exported animals before, during and after their journey.

“These include the conditions on the vessel, including stocking densities, heat/cold stress, inadequate ventilation, slurry management, lack of dry lying areas, difficulties inspecting individual animals, lack of daily veterinary reporting, and only deaths being reported rather than the welfare compromise of the animals that do not die on board,” she says.

“There are also issues around quarantine, and the lack of control at the destination country after the 30 days of reporting is completed. New Zealanders, including many farmers, have told us that they do not want live exports to continue. Will Cabinet prioritise animal welfare in this decision?” Dr Dale questioned.

SPCA put a number of considerations forward to Ministers including;

Animal welfare compromise during transit: Live export exposes animals to a range of major stressors, such as disease, heat stress, high stocking density, high ammonia levels, noise, motion sickness and changes in lighting patterns, to name but a few (Phillips, 2008). The longer and more complex the journey, the greater the risk of welfare compromise to the animals (Fisher, 2013). This is unacceptable when alternatives, such as transport of high value frozen semen and ova are already available and commercially viable.

Mortality rate as an indicator of health and welfare: Mortality levels must be publicly reported for all voyages, however, these statistics represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of the total impact of the export process on animal welfare. Mortality rate is insufficient as an indicator of animal welfare because it does not capture the suffering animals experience prior to death, or the significantly reduced welfare for those that survive the journey.

Pregnant animals exported: Commonly, animals exported for breeding purposes are heavily pregnant during transport and constitute highly vulnerable animals. Instead, our focus should be directed on expanding New Zealand’s trade in the export of animal genetics.

Animals exported for slaughter: The export of any live animal for slaughter is entirely unnecessary thanks to the refrigerated carcass trade, which guarantees economic returns for a greater proportion of society than just farmers and live exporters. This requires approval from the Director General of MPI.

Fate of the animals once they reach their destination: The New Zealand government can never ensure that exported farmed animals are treated or slaughtered humanely once they have left our shores because our regulations do not have legal effect in foreign jurisdictions. We understand that animals bred in this country are vulnerable to being exposed to handling, rearing and slaughter practices that do not meet the laws and regulations of New Zealand.

Trade considerations: A further consideration is the upcoming NZ/UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The UK has indicated that it will ban the live export of animals for slaughter and fattening, with legislation due to be in place by the end of this year. It has also stated that it will not accept lower animal welfare standards from importing countries. It is therefore in New Zealand’s best interests to enact a total ban on live export for breeding or slaughter, in order to avoid delaying or even jeopardising negotiations with one of its most important trading partners.

Public opinion: The export of farmed animals to other countries with lower welfare standards does not reflect the expectations of the New Zealand public. This practice tarnishes New Zealand’s reputation internationally, and erodes confidence in our industry back home.

Ms Midgen says the time to act is now.

“SPCA has a responsibility to urge the government and notably the Cabinet, to do the right thing and end the live export of farmed animals once and for all.”

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