SPCA New Zealand

National disgrace: Reintroduction of live exports would be deeply shameful for NZ

12 February 2024

SPCA is urging the Government to rethink its election promise to reintroduce the live export of livestock by sea, which would be an unprecedented leap backwards for animal welfare.

National disgrace: Reintroduction of live exports would be deeply shameful for NZ

The previous Government’s ban on live exports by sea came into effect early last year, following decades of campaigning by SPCA and other animal welfare advocates. But despite strong public support for the ban, the National and ACT parties promised to undo the legislation if they were elected.

SPCA Chief Scientific Officer Dr Arnja Dale says reintroducing live exports would be deeply shameful and embarrassing for New Zealand, and a risk to our country’s reputation.

“The day that live export of animals by sea is reintroduced will be a dark day for New Zealand and animal welfare,” says Dr Dale. “A decision to reinstate this archaic and barbaric practice would be throwing away years of advocacy work and progress and would be a complete disregard of public sentiment around this issue, as we know just 19 percent of people support overturning the ban*.

“Live exports are entirely unethical, and we must not allow this cruel practice to return,” says Dr Dale.

Many people will remember the tragic sinking of Gulf Livestock 1 in 2020, where almost 6,000 cattle and 41 people lost their lives. In addition to the obvious risk of catastrophic sinking incidents, which result in both animals and people suffering terrifying deaths at sea, there are significant and unavoidable welfare issues surrounding live exports by ship. These include animals being at sea for two to three weeks and exposed to heat stress, injury, disease, overcrowding, motion sickness, changes in feed and poor environmental conditions – not to mention the potential for poor treatment at their destination, which New Zealand authorities have no control over.

A recent survey conducted on behalf of SPCA found just 22 percent of farmers want to see the current ban overturned, and only 12 percent of people trust in the live export industry. Meanwhile, 60 percent of people agreed that reversing the ban would damage New Zealand’s reputation for animal welfare.

“We’ve seen horrific images from onboard these ships from the last few years, which show unimaginable conditions,” says Dr Dale. “The cattle are packed tightly together, covered in filth and standing in their own urine and faeces. It’s abhorrent that anyone could allow these animals to be transported in such poor conditions, and it’s beyond belief that a government would want to reintroduce this practice when it’s already been banned.”

This image shows NZ cattle onboard a live export vessel crammed together in knee-deep faeces and filth for weeks at sea.
This image shows NZ cattle onboard a live export vessel crammed together in knee-deep faeces and filth for weeks at sea.

Industry stakeholders have promised a ‘gold standard’ of welfare for these animals, but this would be impossible to achieve given the inevitable welfare issues that are associated with animals being transported in large groups via sea.

“The only thing ‘gold standard’ about reintroducing live exports after already banning it, would be gold standard embarrassment for New Zealand,” says Dr Dale. “Other countries are moving away from livestock exports due to the significant and unavoidable welfare issues associated with it. It would be unprecedented for a nation to ban such a cruel practice and then reinstate it.

“We’re asking the Government not to put short-term profits for those involved in the trade over the welfare of these animals, who feel pain, distress and fear just like we do. If we want to show the world that we care about animal welfare, then we simply have to do better, and reintroducing live exports would be a national disgrace.”

SPCA strongly supports a ban on the live export of farmed animals by sea and will continue to advocate for New Zealand’s current ban to remain in place.

*Statistics are taken from SPCA’s Live Exports survey conducted in December 2023 by Camorra Research Ltd.

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