New Zealand livestock exports by sea to cease

Forty-three crew members, including two New Zealanders, were lost – along with nearly 6,000 head of livestock – when the Gulf Livestock 1 sank in the East China Sea. Photo / Graham Flett / AP

Livestock exports by sea will be halted from April next year after the trade was reviewed in 2019 in response to concerns about the ongoing threat to New Zealand’s reputation.

The bill, passed in Parliament today, does not cover the export of live animals by air, for which travel times are much shorter.

Agriculture Secretary Damien O’Connor said the move will protect the country’s reputation for world-leading animal welfare standards.

“The Animal Welfare Amendment Bill future-proofs our economic security in the face of increasing consumer scrutiny across the board over production practices,” said Damien O’Connor.

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“The aim of this review was to give New Zealanders an opportunity to reflect on how we can improve the welfare of exported livestock.

“Our primary sector exports reached a record $53 billion last year, giving us economic security. This result is based on our hard-earned reputation, which we want to protect.”

O’Connor acknowledged the contributions of written and oral submitters during the review and selection committee process, as well as the significant support the bill received from the public.

“New Zealand’s remoteness means animals are at sea for longer periods of time, increasing their vulnerability to heat stress and other welfare-related risks,” he said.

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“Those involved in trading have made improvements in recent years, but despite any regulatory action we might take, travel times and travel through the tropics to northern hemisphere markets will always present challenges.”

O’Connor said the tragic sinking of the Gulf Livestock 1 highlighted the true risks.

“The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee supported the ban. Opinions differ about its long-term value among farmers, how it impacts New Zealand’s commitment to animal welfare and our image in the eyes of international consumers.

“The impact on export flow will be small in the context of total primary sector exports. Live exports by sea accounted for about 0.6 percent of primary sector exports last year,” he said.

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O’Connor also acknowledged those directly affected by these changes, but said he believes the two-year transition period provides ample time for business models and supply chains to accommodate the trade abolition.

“However, our commitment to these high standards has already proven itself where animal welfare discussions have been part of free trade agreement negotiations with the United Kingdom and the European Union.”

“This law strengthens and enhances New Zealand’s reputation as a safe and ethical producer of quality food,” he said.

“It not only protects the reputation of our farmers, but also reassures future farmers who want to commit to raising livestock that we are the best animal welfare managers and producers of ethical animal protein in the world.”