Cattle exported to Sri Lanka suffered a high death rate prompting a government review into live export, while the review is underway thousands of cattle are being shipped to China. Photo: Supplied

The government review into live exports hasn’t slowed down the trade in live cattle, with China importing 5400 in August and a ship ready to pick up another 4700 about to arrive in Napier.

Almost 5000 New Zealand cows could set sail for China next week on a ship which has had a history of animal welfare problems.

Last year 33 cows died aboard the Yangtze Fortune on a journey from Australia to China, most from heat stress. An observer on board noted issues with deck washing, ventilation, and said food and water troughs were regularly knocked over, leaving the cattle without food and water.

The ship is also involved in a biosecurity breach in Australia, where it was barred from exporting 5000 cows last week. The nature of the breach relates to animal tracing, not the ship.

The application to export 4700 animals from Napier to China next week is pending approval by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Since 2003 New Zealand has banned the live export of cattle, sheep, goats and deer for slaughter, but does allow the export of cattle for breeding. 

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor ordered a review of New Zealand’s live export trade in June after news dairy cows exported to Sri Lanka were suffering saying: 

“The continued export of cattle may be a risk to New Zealand’s brand. The time has come to rethink this area and consider whether it’s something that fits within our values as a country.”

O’Connor said a conditional ban on exports is an option. While the review is underway it’s business as usual for the live export trade.

New Zealand’s live cattle exports were worth $30m last year.

The Sri Lankan dairy project which sparked the review involved 2000 heifers. Despite warnings about the poor suitability of cows to Sri Lankan conditions, the Sri Lankan government agreed to import 15,000. In their first year in Sri Lanka 95 of the 2000 New Zealand cows died. 

Sri Lankan farmer Subhashini Kadurugasyaya told Newsroom her farm resembles an animal hospital, full of sick and dying New Zealand cows with the cost of caring for the animals driving the farmers into debt. 

She knows of 12 other families in the same predicament who participated in the dairy scheme.

“They don’t even have money to feed the cattle, but no one can let the cattle die. They are borrowing and spending money.”

Animal welfare group SAFE’s campaigns manager Marianne Macdonald is not happy with the current situation

“We know that animals suffer on live export ships, and Yangtze Fortune has a bad track record.”

If next week’s shipment goes ahead it will be the second shipment sent since the review was announced. In August 5400 cattle were sent from Napier to China aboard the Yangtze Fortune’s sister ship the Yangtze Harmony. Three cows died during the 18-day voyage.

“So far this year New Zealand has exported more cattle than were exported in total in 2018. That is a sign this government is not taking their review into live export seriously.”

If this shipment is approved, the total number of cattle exported live this year would be 22,204 all destined for China. To date 13 on-board deaths have been reported. China has welfare laws around methods for slaughtering pigs, but not other livestock.

The animal advocacy group wants live exports banned to countries which don’t have the same animal welfare standards as New Zealand, a measure backed by 15,000 people in a SAFE petition.

MPI’s director of animal health and welfare Dr Chris Rodwell said the agency was assessing the application.

He was aware of the ship’s issue in Australia.  

“However, the exporter has confirmed that the vessel has a current Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock. The vessel will also be subject to our own stringent checks.”

Vets will inspect the ship, and now MPI requires exporters report on the condition of the cattle 30 days after they arrive at the destination, and provide information on travel arrangements after arrival in China.

“If these assurances are not provided, an export certificate will not be issued.”

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