Clarity needed on live exports

The Gulf Livestock 1. Photo: Supplied
The Gulf Livestock 1. Photo: Supplied
By late yesterday, 40 people were still missing presumed drowned off the coast of Japan. As the search resumed, families in three countries waited for news of a miracle.

Two New Zealand men were among the missing after the livestock carrier Gulf Livestock 1 sank in the typhoon-ravaged East China Sea.

Te Anau man Lochie Bellerby is described as a top bloke who wanted to see the world, a hard-working shepherd with a keen sense of adventure.

Scott Harris was on his first voyage. Loyal and caring, the father of two left a family now caught in the heartbreak of a slowly-unfolding tragedy.

The ship was carrying more than 5800 cows when it sank. The cows would have gone down with the ship.

Information as to the Japanese Coast Guard’s search has been slow in getting to some of the families. Frustrated, they want to know why the ship was in the typhoon zone, whether the life rafts were deployed, and if their men are alive.

This is the most pressing concern in a sea of unanswered questions that have already prompted potentially far-reaching official responses.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has temporarily suspended considering cattle livestock export applications until it knows more about what happened, a move worrying those with export contracts waiting to be filled.

On talkback radio yesterday, a southern livestock agent called the stay a knee-jerk reaction that is ‘‘totally unfair’’ for hard-hit rural communities.

It is a big earner and a not-insignificant supplement to other on-farm production, she said. MPI should be focused on the ship that sank.

Indeed it should, for exporters will not want an already controversial trade hurt further by what may have happened south of Japan.

They will want MPI to learn more to further improve — perhaps even insulate — a trade they do not want to lose.

But as they do so, it would also be wise to check the prevailing economic, political and policy climate predating MPI’s response.

New Zealand banned the export of live animals for slaughter in 2007, in part prompted by concerns for animal welfare in receiving countries.

This fuelled calls for a total ban, with a new spotlight thrown on relatively cramped conditions during long voyages.

Live exports appeared to have plateaued when a new review ‘‘to improve stock welfare and protect New Zealand’s reputation’’ was announced last year.

It yielded four options: continuous improvement, new regulations, a conditional ban and a total ban. Eighteen months since it started, the process waits a decision.

It seems unlikely it will come before the election, and neither of the main parties has driven their warratah into the ground.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor notes international consumers increasingly care about animal welfare standards, and our economic wellbeing depends on our reputation.

National Party agriculture spokesman David Bennett says MPI should prioritise an investigation into the ship, and the party will form its view on MPI's advice from the review.

On those statements it seems clear neither party wants to make a difficult — but long-awaited and long-telegraphed — decision during a tragedy. But they will have to, and soon.

Submissions to the review clearly show a sharp divide between the economic, social and ethical concerns that support and oppose keeping live exports as they are.

It has been clear for many years that live export regulations will have to change to meet changing attitudes and circumstances. The parties ought to have a stance by now.

New Zealand will emerge from the election still needing to export its way out of the pandemic, and still needing a reputation that will keep opening doors to markets overseas.

Comments

We should ban this cruel trade. Yesterday's editorial came down strongly on one side of an argument. Why are you sitting on the fence again with this issue? Do you support a ban or not?

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