Live export ban petition passes 20,000 signatures, organiser wants five times that

Animal welfare charity Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE) has launched a fundraising campaign to combat a million-dollar lobbying campaign by Livestock Export New Zealand (LENZ) aiming to persuade the government to restart live animal exports.

SAFE chief executive Debra Ashton said the charity wants to raise $100,000 and get just as many signatures on a petition opposing the practise, which was outlawed in 2023.

Former agriculture minister Damien O’Connor in 2022 said the ban would protect New Zealand’s reputation for world-leading animal welfare standards.

The ban came after the Gulf Livestock 1 tragedy in September 2020, where 6000 cattle and 41 crew died.

Before last year’s election, National promised to overturn the ban – albeit with ‘gold standard’ animal welfare rules.

Ashton told RNZ restarting live exports would be for the benefit of a minority, and certainly not the majority of New Zealand farmers, and put New Zealand’s reputation at risk, damaging trade in other goods.

“We have high animal welfare standards here in New Zealand, and if we return back to sending animals overseas, we are likely to be bringing down that really good reputation that we have.

“Former minister for agriculture Damien O’Connor was very proud of the fact that we had high animal welfare standards – that was really important for our international trade, and I think a lot of farmers probably recognise that and are wondering, you know, what kind of impact a return to live export could have on what they’re doing as well.”

New Zealand was the first country to put a ban on live animal exports, garnering praise from animal rights organisations around the globe.

“Subsequently, what happened after that was that the United Kingdom, Australia Luxembourg and Brazil, they’ve all taken steps now to phase out live animal exports,” Ashton said.

“And, you know, we should be really proud of the fact that we were the first ones to do that and to see other countries starting to follow our lead. I think that’s something that we should be really, really proud of.

“So for this new government to want to overturn the ban that was world-leading, you know, it’s not really a good look for us and could have negative impacts on the rest of our trade.”

Ashton said there have been two animal welfare disasters at sea already this year.

“One involves the Australian animals that were sent over to Israel and they were stranded at sea for quite some time because of the war.

“And then we’ve also seen those animals in Cape Town that were on board a ship and honestly, the image of those animals caked in excrement is absolutely horrific. So, I think there’s plenty of evidence to show why we should not be bringing back this cruel trade.”

In the Australia-Israel case, 16,500 sheep and cattle were at sea for month after their vessel was forced to turn back due to difficulties sailing through the Red Sea. But animal welfare officials that inspected the cargo reportedly found no welfare or disease issues. Australian officials blocked plans to send the animals back to Israel the long way, around Africa.

In February, a vessel carrying 19,000 cattle and an unbearable stench briefly stopped in Cape Town, on its way from Brazil to Iraq. The local SPCA said the smell was “indicative of the awful conditions the animals endure… with a build-up of faeces and ammonia”.

In January, RNZ reported on a planned $1 million lobbying campaign by LENZ designed to pressure the government to push ahead with overturning the ban – fearing the National’s pre-election pledge might stall or even fail.

Strategy documents showed the industry feared SAFE’s efforts would derail their plan to have live exports back up and running by August this year.

Research commissioned by LENZ suggested the export ban would cost $475 million in lost GDP over the first couple of years and about $320m each year after that.

“Farmers were receiving something in the vicinity of close to double what those animals were valued for on the local market – so that’s a really important income stream for them,” LENZ chairman Mark Willis said, talking up tougher new animal welfare standards it would back should exports resume.

“We can give New Zealanders the assurance that a new regime would be a big lift and the standards that we would be achieving would be the highest in the world.”

A SAFE petition calling on the government to keep the ban has almost 20,000 signatures.

“I think the reaction to the petition is a reflection of how Kiwis feel about live export,” Ashton told RNZ.

“I’m hoping and certainly encouraging as many people as possible who really care about this issue to take the time to sign the petition. Their signature does count.

“I think, you know, the government would be overwhelmed I think if we get over 100,000 signatures, for starters. So that’s my personal goal. But I certainly hope that the signatures on that petition will exceed that and the government will have to take notice.”

Ministry for Primary Industries director of animal health and welfare Dr Carolyn Guy earlier said the prohibition would remain in place before it went out for consultation.

Associate Minister of Agriculture for animal welfare Andrew Hoggard earlier said the government was seeking advice on amending the legislation – and while a timeline was still being worked through, it would go out for full public consultation first.

“I encourage everyone to fully engage in the public consultation,” Hoggard said in a statement.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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