Live animal exports look set to return, but not without new ‘gold standard’ requirements to protect animal welfare and safety.
National, ACT and NZ First all committed during election campaigning to reversing the ban on live exports and putting enhanced animal welfare standards in place. The new Government has confirmed its intention to lift the ban, and trade could resume by mid-2024.
Federated Farmers Dairy Chair Richard McIntyre says Federated Farmers had pushed for this move, and he’s pleased the Government will follow up on the campaign commitment.
McIntyre says live exports are a significant earner for farmers when domestic market and environmental conditions, such as droughts, are unfavourable.
Live exports have earned New Zealand around $300-$400m a year (that jumped to $524m last year, with the ban on the horizon).
The previous Government’s 2021 Regulatory Impact Statement noted: “…livestock exports make a small but important financial contribution to individual farmers by helping diversify their income streams.
“In addition to fetching premium prices, if export cattle are sold as yearlings, farmers can receive an earlier than normal return on investment.”
In the 10 years to 2021, around 5000 farmers across all regions of New Zealand had supplied breeding cattle for export, the Regulatory Impact Statement said.
McIntyre says Federated Farmers also welcomes stronger welfare standards.
“New Zealand farmers already have high standards for animal welfare on-farm, and we expect the same with exported animals. This is about protecting our international reputation, but it’s also about maintaining our reputation here in our communities.”
In October, a 1News Verian poll found 51% of Kiwis wanted the live export ban, which came into effect in April 2023, to continue. Some 30% wanted to see the trade resume with increased animal welfare and safety standards, while 6% wanted the practice to restart with no new requirements, and the rest ‘didn’t know’.
The question asked was: ‘Should live animal exports be restarted or continue to be banned?’
McIntyre says the 1News poll highlighted that New Zealanders value high standards of animal welfare.
But he says the average New Zealander is not likely to be aware of the live export industry-initiated ‘NZ Gold Standard’ animal welfare precautions put forward as a caveat on any re-start of cattle and sheep being shipped live from our shores.
“Often with these surveys, how the question is framed and what context those surveyed are provided with, has a big bearing on the answers.
“With live exports, it’s important for people to understand what the Gold Standard would look like, and how far ahead of the rest of the world Kiwi farmers already are – and will continue to be.”
It’s also important that people understand New Zealand live cattle exports are entirely for breeding purposes, he says.
“People sometimes confuse live cattle exports with the live export for religious slaughter trade, which New Zealand won’t be doing.”
Live Export NZ (LENZ) Chairman Mark Willis describes the Gold Standard animal welfare criteria, including post-arrival care and sustained monitoring in the animals’ country of destination, as unmatched internationally.
He says LENZ commissioned independent research on the same topic in September last year. Of 2,100 randomly selected respondents, 59% agreed that rather than banning live animal exports, New Zealand should raise the standards required of the industry.
McIntyre says that although New Zealand put a ban in place, other live animal exporting countries have carried on, likely filling any customer demand we abandoned.
“The global live cattle trade will continue but from countries and by exporters with lower animal standards filling the gap enforced on us.”
Few countries match the pre-voyage and voyage animal welfare standards the New Zealand trade employed before the ban, let alone the enhancements now proposed, he adds.
Figures for 2019 show 39,700 live cattle were shipped from New Zealand. In comparison, Australia exported 44 times that number at 1.77m, the EU exported more than a million cattle, Brazil 535,289, Canada 746,300, and Mexico 205,230.
Figures for live export of sheep and goats show similar ratios.
And yet, Willis and McIntyre agree, if New Zealand was still involved, our high animal welfare standards would push others to lift their game.
“Thanks to the ban, we’ve also lost the opportunity to have influence, via commercial relationships, over the welfare of exported animals after they’ve arrived in countries such as China,” McIntyre says.
One of the “myths” Willis is keen to knock on the head is that live export sees our best genetics shipped offshore, to countries we seek to sell our read meat and milk to.
“It’s just not true. Farmers keep the best genetics for themselves; they’re selling their surplus stock.
“Trade in best genetics [happens in] semen. New Zealand imports semen from all over the world in order to be able to get to better genetics. So, the idea that we’re not going to be able to sell our own products because we export cattle is somewhat fanciful.”
LENZ has argued for several years the previous regulations were not fit for purpose “for the modern world”, says Willis.
“During the transition period, the industry was working really, really closely with MPI to ensure positive animal welfare outcomes over that period, and a lot of improvements and changes to practices were made.
“So, in many ways, we’re a fair way down the path of creating that industry practice Gold Standard, but there’s still more work to be done.”
An export licensing system needs to in place, Willis says.
“Previously there was no ability for MPI to be able to place conditions on an exporter, to suspend or revoke the licence or whatever.”
Willis’ estimate is that legislation could be ready to be put in front of the Parliament by April next year, and the export trade re-started by around August.
“We’d need to talk to a lot of people who can assist us with making that happen. Political leaders will, ultimately, be responsible for that timeline but we’ll do everything we can to supply them with the information they need to be able to make those decisions.”
It won’t take long for farmers to gear up if the ban is lifted.
“The feedback we’re getting is that the opportunities in this space are sorely missed,” Willis says.
Photo: Richard McIntyre cattle race
Caption: Richard McIntyre, Federated Farmers Dairy Chair, expects to see live animal export return under the new Government.