After the tragic loss of the Gulf Livestock 1, export of live animals is once again in the spotlight.
There is no denying the monetary value of our "cash cows", much coveted around the world. According to conservative estimates, each living cow landed on foreign soil is worth about $1600.
Tom Slaughter, from Australian-based Austrex, estimated a single shipment of 3700 live cattle bound for China from the Timaru Port in 2018 had a free on board value of "about $6 million".
The rules governing the export of live animals are said to reflect high expectations New Zealanders have around animal welfare, but anecdotal evidence already available and amplified in the days after the loss of the Gulf Livestock 1 says otherwise.
This year so far, New Zealand has exported 39,725 cattle, all bound for China, with 40 reported animal deaths. Thirteen died on the Yangse Harmony, which departed New Plymouth on April 22, because of heat stress and salmonellosis. One can only imagine the conditions on the voyage.
We expect the Ministry for Primary Industries to ensure the welfare of the animals on their journey. People experienced in handling animals must be on board. For sea voyages, the minimum requirement is at least one experienced stockman per 1500 cattle and at least two experienced stockmen for a shipment of up to 60,000 sheep in addition to the crew of the vessel.
However, MPI does not have jurisdiction and cannot require verification of animal welfare after the animals arrive. At this point, we avert any pretence of having eyes on this trade.
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We assume it is in the buyers' best interests that the prime breeding stock remain in excellent condition so they can make a return on their investment. It is reported that China wants to build its dairy industry to meet growing demand from an expanding middle class. But, even so, is it in the long-term interests of New Zealand?
Now, with the tragic loss of life, human and cattle, aboard the Japan-bound Gulf Livestock 1, it should be impossible to deny the practice of shipping lives animals should be halted indefinitely and thoroughly reviewed before, if ever, resuming.