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Farmers Reject Government’s Plans To Restart The Export Of Animals By Sea

“I can’t see how they can polish this turd” – farmers reject Government’s plans to restart the export of animals by sea. 

1 May marks a year since New Zealand’s world-leading ban on live exports by sea came into effect. Instead of it being cause for celebration the anniversary is marred by the Government’s plan to restart the unpopular trade.

SPCA says politicians claiming to be champions of farming and business do not have the support of all farmers or a business case for it.

“Government would have the public believe that any opposition to their plan is anti-farming,” says SPCA’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr Arnja Dale. “It’s about animal welfare and farmers agree.”

Waikato dairy farmer Chris Falconer has signed the parliamentary petition to protect the ban.

“I can't see how they can polish this turd. There might be a couple of extra boxes to tick but it’ll still be miserable for the animals.”

Since New Zealand’s ban other countries around the world have begun to follow suit but the Government wants to overturn the ban, a move known in business circles as ‘backslide.’

The ban was imposed in response to veterinarians, animal welfare advocates, and the New Zealand public decrying conditions and outcomes for the animals. There have also been multiple disasters for the industry.

“I think it would be extremely silly for this Government to overturn the ban when it’s not something they have majority public support for,” says a dairy farmer in Canterbury choosing to withhold his name from publication to avoid hassle. He believes the ban imposed by the previous Government makes sense.

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The live export lobby in New Zealand is made up of corporates, some with co-directorships registered to addresses in China and Australia. It is unclear what value live exports would bring to the economy but before the ban it represented approximately half a percent of New Zealand’s primary sector exports revenue. Meanwhile market commentators say China’s domestic demand for dairy has declined as it nears self-sufficiency.

“We’ve asked to see a business case or a cost benefit analysis for it– the Government says it doesn’t have either,” says Dr Dale.

“We have also asked to see the official advice provided to the Minister from MPI on the process for reintroducing live exports by sea. The Government refuses to share it.”

“Scrapping the ban is a backward step for farmers and farmers have enough trouble being associated with forward steps,” says dairy farmer Chris Falconer.

“My farm is my business so the first lens I apply is does it compromise our values – not is it financially viable - does it compromise our values and if it does – it’s a nonstarter.”

Speaking to SPCA from the farm his family has worked for generations a Southland farmer says he’s not interested in selling his breeding stock to overseas farms, but he tends to stay quiet about his stance frustrated at farmers being used to bolster political support.

“It’s an animal welfare issue,” he says, “not a political one.”

Federated Farmers has publicly made clear its support for the return of live cattle exports but some of its members say they haven’t been asked their opinion. The organisation’s former President Andrew Hoggard, now Animal Welfare Minister, himself a farmer, is tasked with restarting the live export trade. In May last year he told Rural News Group he hasn’t needed to export his cattle.

In National’s manifesto Christopher Luxon put it like this:

‘New Zealand is an agricultural nation. National will boost our economy while protecting our environment. National is proud to back New Zealand’s world-leading farmers.’

SPCA’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr Arnja Dale says protecting animal welfare is pro-farming.

“New Zealand farmers work tirelessly to provide good animal welfare evolving and safeguarding standards that are envied abroad. Why would anyone want to undermine that premium?”

She says restarting the export of live animals by sea neither significantly boosts the economy nor backs New Zealand’s world-leading farmers.

Pete Morgan of South Waikato describes himself as a mainstream, profit-focused, by-the-book dairy farmer. He says he relies on a mix of robust science and first-hand experience to improve animal welfare and wellbeing.

“Happy healthy animals are far more productive. Live exports are out of time. The decision to ban them is right morally, it’s right for the market and it’s right for optimising profitability.”

It’s not just the conditions on boats that farmers are deeply uncomfortable with. Mr Morgan says his farming peers agree that putting animals on foreign farms, where they will not have the continued protections they have in New Zealand, could be overtly abusive.

He’s also signed the parliamentary petition to protect the ban urging the Government to be associated with progress rather than slowing necessary change for the sector.

“Government’s job is leadership, the move away from live exports is what good leadership looks like,” he says.

SPCA hears from farmers upset at the photos showing animals on board ships caked in excrement without the room to show normal behaviour.

“They should be upset, this is not how animals are treated on New Zealand farms,” says Dr Arnja Dale.

“When farmers see the photos, they react with a mix of anger and disbelief. And I get it. What is the point if we end up treating them like this?”

Spearheading the parliamentary petition to protect the ban is retired veterinarian Dr John Hellstrōm ONZM who is a former Chief Veterinary Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and former chair of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.

“I have been blown away by the comments I’ve received from farmers and vets who support the petition and have thanked me for putting it up. Many have said they are so disappointed that live cattle export has been brought up again after it was finally closed down.”

Dr Hellstrōm’s parliamentary petition has so far collected more than 33,000 signatures from people wanting to protect the ban on live exports by sea.

The petition closes 14 June and can be found here.

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