SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Live Export of Farmed Animals by Sea

Farmed Animals

SPCA opposes the live export of animals by sea and advocates that long-duration transportation by sea should be legally restricted to meat or carcasses, or genetic material, such as semen.

Under the Animal Welfare (Export of Livestock for Slaughter) Regulations 2016, no live animals may be exported for slaughter without the prior approval of the Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). However, export of breeding animals and exceptions to the prohibition on live export for slaughter are still permitted.

SPCA does not support the export of livestock for breeding purposes due to the significant animal welfare concerns raised through long-distance live transport and urges the government to focus instead on expanding New Zealand’s trade in the export of animal genetics. This will be beneficial for both the animals concerned and the reputation of our country.

Handling, loading, transporting and unloading of animals is known to have substantial effects on their welfare and these effects are exacerbated when the animals are exported by sea. Research lists the major stressors on ship as exposure to clinical diseases, heat stress, mixing of animals from different farms, high stocking density, high ammonia levels, and other stressors such as noise, motion sickness, changes in lighting patterns and novel environments.

Heat stress is a particular problem and research has shown that many animals on board export ships experience severe heat stress. This causes serious welfare compromise, but not necessarily death. Mortality is the primary welfare indicator used by the government to assess welfare on these voyages and thus animal welfare compromise is likely to be under estimated in this reporting.

Once the vessel reaches its destination, the animals being transported are no longer under New Zealand’s control. Even if importing countries have animal health and welfare requirements, these are often different to what the public in this country expects for New Zealand animals.

In November 2019, more than 14,000 Romanian sheep drowned after a vessel capsized; which led to calls from the country’s main livestock breeder and exporter association, Acebop, for the long-distance transportation of livestock to be banned outright if the animals could not be protected. This event added to the reporting of the distressing situation in Sri Lanka in which hundreds of cattle suffered and died after they were exported from New Zealand and Australia. The fate of the cattle in Sri Lanka resulted in extensive outcry in this country against the export of livestock overseas and tarnished New Zealand’s reputation internationally.More recently in September of 2020, another ship (‘Gulf Livestock 1’) carrying a reported 5,800 breeding cattle capsized near Japan during Typhoon Maysa, killing all animals on board.

SPCA does not believe that there is currently “a comprehensive system in place to manage livestock exports and animal welfare” as claimed by the government. Instead, SPCA believes that current live exports of farmed animals both compromise animal welfare and damage New Zealand’s reputation.

SPCA submitted on the Live Export Review in January 2020, urging the Government to seize the opportunity to make a permanent stand against the unnecessary international overseas trade in farmed animals. Decisions from the review were due to be released in early 2020 but have been delayed due to COVID-19. While SPCA supports the Government's move to suspend live export pending a review of the recent sinking of Gulf Livestock 1, SPCA calls on the New Zealand Government to permanently ban the unnecessary and problematic practice of live exports immediately.

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