A controversial export of 4700 live cattle has left Napier and is en route to China, after the Ministry for Primary Industries allowed it to go ahead.

Director Animal Health and Welfare, Chris Rodwell, said the decision had been made following "a thorough inspection by MPI vets".

"I was in Napier alongside other MPI vets to oversee animal welfare checks and to thoroughly inspect conditions on the vessel to ensure it met our stringent animal welfare requirements.

"Loading was overseen by MPI vets and further checks were conducted prior to departure.

Advertisement

"We would not allow any vessel to leave port unless fully satisfied that all of our strict conditions are met."

The ship, the Yangtze Fortune, departed Napier on Tuesday afternoon.

"A vet is on board for the journey to ensure animal welfare requirements are met during the voyage, and the strengthened requirements put in place this year will ensure we receive a 30 day post-arrival report in addition to a voyage report."

An MPI report on last month's shipment of 5400 live cattle from Napier to China showed three died. Out of the five shipments so far this year, 13 or 0.07 per cent of cattle on board died.

Animal welfare group SAFE's CEO, Debra Ashton, said the decision was devastating.

"We can't believe that the minister, knowing what he knows about animals going over to other countries, knowing what he knows, he is still allowing animals to leave our ports and go these countries with lower animal welfare standards."

She said countries animals were exported to from New Zealand often did not have the same level of standards when it came to animal welfare.

For example, she said pre-stunning before slaughter was not always a requirement.

Advertisement

"We've seen images of animals being killed with sledge hammers, they are not pre-stunned, so their throats will be cut and they will be just bled out.

"There's not enough information around what this particular shipment will face when it gets there."

She said SAFE would like to see a moratorium on live export while a review into the practice is under way.

The Yangtze Fortune was turned away from Australia, and is currently part of an investigation in Australia over a possible biosecurity breach.

MPI told Hawke's Bay Today last week the biosecurity breach was not specifically to do with the ship, but relates to livestock tagging.

"Our counterparts in Australia have confirmed the previous biosecurity issue related to livestock tagging (similar to our NAIT system), and was not an issue with the vessel itself," Rodwell said.

"They have also confirmed that this vessel has a current Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock."

There is currently a review into New Zealand's practice of live exports.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said in a written statement on Monday that while the review is under way the status quo remains.

"This is always the case with any review of regulations which are enshrined in legislation.

"I know some people would prefer that we impose a complete moratorium immediately while we work through the review but it's simply not possible."