Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Sector braces for full impact of cattle export ban

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Earlier this year the Government announced a ban on live cattle exports and allowed for a two-year phase-out period, but those involved believe the ban is the wrong move.
LENZ chair Mark Willis says the government has delivered a shortsighted blow and the industry will continue to work with political parties to re-implement the live export trade.
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A decision made by the Government to ban livestock exporting by sea from New Zealand could have destructive implications for the wider dairy sector. Exporters have concerns about the long-term impacts of the ban, knowing they will extend across farmers and throughout the supply chain and have potential trade ramifications, but the full impacts are not fully understood yet.

The Government claims the controversial practice has been banned due to allegations surrounding animal welfare.

“It’s about animal welfare, we’ve made some changes but it still hasn’t enabled us to guarantee good animal welfare standards on the boats,” Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said when he announced the ban.

“And the voyage times to our northern hemisphere markets will always pose animal welfare challenges.”

The sector was given a phase-out period of two years before the ban takes place in 2023. But the export sector is up in arms about the decision. Especially after two reviews into the trade have been carried out in recent years recommending the practice should continue with some modifications.

The first was instigated by MPI following concerns of deaths connected to new farming ventures in Sri Lanka in 2019 and the second was an independent review carried out by Michael Heron QC and Rear Admiral Tony Parr after the sinking of the Gulf Livestock 1 cattle export ship in 2020.

“I acknowledge the economic benefit some farmers get from the trade, but I also note that support of it is not universal within the sector,” he says.

“There is split opinion about its long-term value and how it fits with the story we want to tell internationally to consumers.”

O’Connor says the review submission from the independent National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) who advises ministers on animal welfare issues, recommended that the practice should stop. And he said officials had spoken to key trading partners about the decision.

“I recognise the importance of our trade relationships with our international partners and we’re committed to working with them as we transition away from the shipment of livestock,” he says.

Mark Willis is the chair of the Animal Genetic Trade Association (AGTA) who represent the interests of the livestock export and germplasm industries and he struggles to understand the rationale behind the ban.

“Yes, we have our international reputation to uphold, but this decision from the Government will do more harm than good to our reputation,” Willis says.

He highlights the growing Chinese agricultural community is closely linked to livestock imports, with some of the biggest agricultural companies in China forming their relationships through livestock exports from NZ.

“We’ve watched the sales of New Zealand whole milk powder grow exponentially since the start of livestock exports to China and we are concerned if those customers start forming relationships with other countries to obtain cattle for their domestic farming operations,” he says.

“Because if they start developing other relationships and buy products from those countries instead of New Zealand, where are we going to sell our milk powder?”

In 2020 NZ exported 113,000 cattle to China, which was three times as many as 2019. It was worth $261 million and has accounted for 0.2% of our total primary exports revenue since 2015. Demand has continued to grow.

The ban will have significant impacts on the entire supply chain across NZ.

“Genuine economic value and commercial activity in the rural sector is generated from the industry,” managing director of livestock export company Genetic Development New Zealand David Hayman says.

“We know all the participants in the supply chain are heavily focused on quality outcomes with good welfare for the animals. Even the treasury advised the minister it would be a big opportunity loss if a ban was imposed.

“We think it’s the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. Farmers will have to make a lot of tough decisions about premature culling of surplus breeding stock at nil or low values.”

Hayman says the various stakeholders connected to the practice, in particular, there will be a significant loss for the transport operators who bring the animals into the pre-export isolation facilities and transport them from the facilities to the port to load onto the ships.

“We’re talking about shipments of around 5000 animals, and they can range from 3000 to 12,000 or 15,000. Taking that business away will directly impact all of those people,” he says.

“There are a lot of players in the whole process and it’s a long supply chain that is all fairly tightly coordinated and carries high costs if there are any mistakes and the animals aren’t ready for the ship at the right time.

“Exporting provides a premium to our farmers and it would be devastating to them not to have that option. It’s fulfilling a valuable role for our farmers and a valuable role for China.”

Young veterinarian Charlotte Harris was keen to find out if it was as bad as she had seen in the media. She went on a shipment with just over 4000 cattle earlier this year and came back convinced there is nothing wrong with it.

“I took lots of photos and had no concerns if anyone wanted to see,” Harris says.

“And having a vet look at cattle twice-a-day is more than most New Zealand farms. The cattle had adequate feed, shelter, water, they were very happy and comfortable and didn’t seem fazed at all.”

There are many people feeling the frustrations of the decision to ban livestock exporting by sea and despite the staunch stance from the Government, many are hopeful they will reconsider.

“Animal welfare has to be at the forefront of this industry, and the values and standards that it aspires to,” Willis says.

“And there’s not one participant within the industry that shirks at that responsibility.”

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