By Mark Willis, chair of the Animal Genetic Trade Association
There is a lot of controversy around exporting livestock from New Zealand despite exceptional performance measures in support of the trade. Mortality rates are low and there is high demand for New Zealand livestock from our trading partners with model farming enterprises.
There are allegations those involved in the trade are secretive and the animals are subject to unacceptably high risk and poor welfare outcomes. But these misleading perceptions have serious consequences.
In April 2021, the New Zealand Government announced livestock export by sea would be banned. There would be a transition period to allow the trade to wind down. Unlike other industries, there was no probationary period to allow the industry a chance to prove it can adapt to an improved regulatory regime. Which had been recommended by two official reviews.
Stakeholders involved in the industry feel the government has failed them. For several years we have requested more effective regulation and licensing regimes to ensure integrity and consistency. That all participants operate to a high standard.
Consequences of the ban include millions of dollars lost of on-farm income domestically and it hurts our relationships with our international trading partners who have large concerns around food security. Being able to import livestock supports their food production.
The bright side
Despite all the negativity, some good has come from the adversity with the export industry and regulators communicating more clearly. And the shake-up has motivated the industry to search for solutions to mitigate the risks and concerns the government has raised. Without improvement, there is no chance of survival.
The industry and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) have entered into a continuous improvement programme, meeting weekly to discuss and implement substantive animal welfare improvements. And significant improvements have been made already.
In less than a year of working constructively with MPI, the industry has made massive gains in welfare standards. The pressure the ban announcement put on has turbo-charged negotiation timeframes. But we still don’t feel like it is enough.
To be viable, the industry must contribute towards achieving the Government objective of positioning New Zealand as a premium provider of agricultural products that have been produced in the most sustainable and ethical manner.
And the industry recognises there needs to be a transparent and reliable ‘gold standard’ of animal welfare. A world-leading standard that assures New Zealand we are doing a great job and that the cattle are being responsibly cared for throughout the export process and beyond. A standard that we hope that New Zealand can be proud of.
This story was first published in the December 2021 issue of Dairy Farmer magazine.