COMMENT:

Why send breeding cattle overseas?

Is this a case of selling the goose that laid the golden egg?

I can't imagine what it must be like for 5400 breeding cattle to be crammed into the hold of a ship and be sent on a 16-day trip by sea to China.

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The cattle left Napier Port Sunday afternoon aboard the Yangtze Harmony.

Cows should be grazing on New Zealand pasture.

It churns my stomach to think this live export of breeding cattle was allowed, and as I write, these animals are at sea.

MPI replied to questions about the live export of the cattle saying "the cattle shipment completed with strict animal welfare requirements was met".

Despite MPI's assurances, it smacks of rhetoric.

It can't be smooth sailing.

There must be high swells and low troughs out there on the Pacific Ocean.

How does MPI expect these cattle to behave under these extreme conditions?

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Humans get seasick - what about these cattle?

So why are these cattle being sent to China?

MPI did not say who owned the cattle and who was receiving them.

MPI says animals are not exported for slaughter, but are used for breeding purposes to help develop the dairy and livestock industries in receiving countries.

It continued that "the export of cattle for breeding is a regulated activity under the Animal Welfare Act, with several stages of requirements that must be met before an export can proceed".

MPI's director of animal health and welfare veterinarian Chris Rodwell was in Napier to oversee the final pre-export process for the shipment and inspected the conditions of the purpose-built facilities on the cattle ship.

Rodwell said MPI was "satisfied with the facilities on the vessel and the level of attention paid to the animals' welfare was in line with the expectations and the requirements of the Act".

"The welfare of animals is at the heart of New Zealand's live animal export system and our focus is on ensuring the animals are well cared for before, during and after export."

I am not convinced the MPI focus reaches beyond when the cattle lands in China, despite Rodwell saying MPI does not have on-going jurisdiction over the care of exported livestock after they reach their destination.

He added their future welfare is also considered. MPI did not say how.

Animal rights organisation SAFE and its supporters were in Napier protesting the approval of the live export application.

The organisation said the history of the live export trade has been plagued with animal welfare disasters and caring Kiwis want it to end.

SAFE campaigns officer Mona Oliver said MPI approved the application despite the Government ordering a review into the live export trade in June.

"The Director-General of MPI could have refused this shipment. He needs to halt all live exports of farmed animals while the Government is reviewing the trade.

"China, like most countries we export to has lower animal welfare standards than New Zealand.

"Once animals leave our shores, we have no control over their welfare in the destination country.

"These cows are likely to end up in concrete factory farms and ultimately be slaughtered by methods so cruel they are prohibited in New Zealand."

MPI says it does not approve livestock for export from New Zealand (through an Animal Welfare Export Certificate - AWEC) unless it is fully satisfied that strict animal welfare requirements will be met by the exporter.

"This exporter has fulfilled all the requirements of the regulations of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 relating to animal exports and animal welfare export certificates."

MPI says the "ship's purpose built facilities provided plenty of space and suitable flooring, with constant access to fresh water food and ventilation, and throughout the journey the stock will be tended by approved stock men and experienced crew, and have 24-hour access to contact with a vet if needed".

MPI said the 5400 breeding heifers were confirmed fit and had been successfully pre-conditioned to the on-board feed and MPI verification services confirmed that the animals and their accommodations met the requirements of the Act.

A closer look at live animal exports is underway and Rodwell says he understands that the issue of live animal exports is one people feel strongly about.

"The Minister of Agriculture has asked us to review the process of live animal exports and has clearly signalled that a number of options are being considered, including a conditional ban on the process.