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New Zealand's Reckless Regression: The Dangers Of New Government Reinstating Livestock Exports

"Mark Willis’ (Live Export New Zealand) comments on RNZ’s AM Rural News (17/10/2023) regarding reinstating livestock exports within a year are alarming on many levels. Willis’ comments demonstrate yet again how economic gain and short-term thinking are prioritised over animal welfare and Aotearoa’s long-term agricultural strategy," says Dr Helen Beattie, Managing Director of Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa (VAWA).

"Having set a lauded global precedent and prioritising the welfare the animals, overturning the Labour Government’s brave and ethical decision to ban livestock exports by sea, would be a reckless regression. The National government-elect’s myopic pursuit of short-term economic benefits at the expense of animal welfare makes even less sense given the recent dairy downturn was reported in part to be driven by lower Chinese demand for our milk powder - their dairy herd is now bigger than ours and many of those cows came from New Zealand."

"Aotearoa New Zealand has long been regarded as a global exemplar in sustainable and ethical farming practices and it is often stated that we trade on our clean, green image and that we are ‘best in class’ regarding our animal care and welfare standards. However, the policy announcement by the National government-elect to reinstate livestock exports threatens to tarnish our hard-earned reputation. Contrary to their claims of economic prosperity generated from the trade, the livestock exports industry makes up less than 0.5% of Aotearoa’s agriculture export revenue, though that small amount does make a lot of money for a few people. It is no surprise then that those are the voices that we hear advocating to reinstate the trade, despite the risk to our animals and to our high welfare, ethical, pastoral farming narrative. Rather, it’s on board, out of sight, out of mind, and the money in the bank."

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"Assurances have been given that the practice won’t be reinstated unless animal welfare is protected, both during the voyages and in the destination country. Both those promises are hollow - firstly, without purpose built, air conditioned vessels, and huge changes to a number of other export practices, voyage welfare will be compromised; secondly, New Zealand has no jurisdiction over the animal welfare requirements for animals in other countries. By the same principle, other countries do not have jurisdiction over New Zealand’s animal welfare rules; the latter being an important point to make when arguments veer into pushing New Zealand’s ‘influence’ on the treatment of animals at destination."

Conditions on ship

"The stark reality is that conditions on the ships often fall woefully short of acceptable welfare standards. Central to the issue is that our livestock shipments cross the equator, and the vessels have no air conditioning, nor humidity control. These two facts alone mean animal welfare is not able to be protected, due to heat stress causing unacceptable suffering.

Additionally, there’s the stress of confinement, extremely limited space allocations, lack of comfortable lying surfaces, risk of various illnesses and injuries from the floor surfaces - all compounded by the lack of proper veterinary facilities available and the impracticality of providing veterinary care on board in the cramped, dark, filthy environment. These journeys are inherently inhumane, and New Zealand's admirable commitment to animal welfare cannot be upheld when animals are subjected to suffering on these voyages."

Conditions at destination

"The National government-elect's promise of assuring animal welfare standards in importing nations is not only illusory, but also unenforceable. New Zealand cannot feasibly dictate nor guarantee the welfare practices of foreign nations. There is no comprehensive, mandated international animal welfare reporting, nor assurance via the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) terrestrial standards, which further compounds the risks associated with livestock exports and animals’ lives in other countries. This inability to understand the fate of the animals once they leave the quarantine facility creates a troubling ethical quandary, as the welfare of these sentient beings remains in perpetual jeopardy."

"These concerns find stark validation in the findings of the NZ Primary Production Select Committee report, which highlighted numerous instances of animal suffering and the disregard for providing acceptable welfare standards during past livestock export ventures, despite the industry’s claim to the contrary. The distressing images and testimonies provided in one anonymous submitter’s report, paint a grim picture of the consequences of prioritising economic gains over animal welfare. Furthermore, the plight of Australian veterinarian, Dr. Lynn Simpson, who witnessed firsthand the abhorrent conditions endured by livestock during 57 voyages, and in trying to address this has been vilified, serves as a poignant reminder of not only the inherent cruelties embedded within this industry, but also the dangers of speaking up against the industry."

"Reinstating livestock exports under the current circumstances is an affront to the scientific knowledge of animal welfare and New Zealand's principles of compassion and responsibility. Aotearoa New Zealand must remain steadfast in its commitment to the ban on livestock exports by sea - the welfare of the sentient animals must remain in the centre of our thinking, rather than regressing into the shadows of callous exploitation for financial gain for a few. Reinstating livestock exports will erode public trust in the government elect’s commitment to behaving ethically. New Zealand and the world are watching, and the National government-elect must not let us down."

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