The Government has allowed for a two-year phase-out period for live cattle exports by sea to allow people time to adjust.
It will be an adjustment for those who relied on the practice for a significant portion of their income, as well as those who used it to sell any surplus heifers that were export quality, Federated Farmers animal welfare spokesperson Wayne Langford says.
He says the dollar value of these animals being exported was significantly higher than what they are worth if sold on the domestic market.
“Now they will have to adjust their systems with what they were doing,” Langford says.
The stock that was bound for export could now be sold at the sale yards and Langford says it would affect that market.
“I can’t see how this is not going to flood the market, and I would expect a downturn in dairy heifer prices,” he says.
“I’m yet to hear how this can be avoided and it will be interesting to see how farmers change their systems and how many animals are raised over the next few years.”
It was not just the farmers growing the cattle that would have to adjust. There was a wider support industry, including farmers who ran quarantine facilities for the cattle prior to shipment, stock agents and veterinarians.
“There’s everything that goes along with this process. It’s a $250 million business. We shouldn’t downplay how much that is.”
Langford says the announcement surprised him.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says the decision would protect New Zealand’s reputation as the most ethical producer of food in the world.
“Those farmers who support livestock exports would point out our trade in this sector operates to some of the highest animal welfare standards anywhere – standards that were further bolstered after last year’s Heron Report,” Langford says.
“Our farmers care deeply about animal welfare. The government has seen fit to bring in this ban, but Federated Farmers has no information about any breaches of the high standards relating to livestock exports.”
So far, about 110,000 animals have been exported this year and he estimated around 500-1000 farmers will be impacted.
He says the two-year phase-out period was important and should allow for farmers to make the necessary adjustments.
“That’s definitely a positive that it’s not a ban overnight, as that would be even harder to take,” he says.
Once the ban was in place, he believed farmers could choose to grow more dairy-beef cattle and could either sell the animals as calves or cull them as bobbies.
“It could be a bit of everything, but you’ll see farmers making more choices around their beef sires.”
Langford says his phone had “been ringing off the hook” over the 24 hours since the announcement.
He says the calls had been an even mix of farmers supporting the move and those who are against it.
“There’s been a real mix of views. It’s a bit like the vegemite-marmite debate,” he says.
One of those views came from dairy farmer Matt Pepper, who emailed O’Connor expressing his disappointment at the decision.
“I have just sold export heifers for $1900 each at only nine months old. I have been to China and have seen where these animals go, which is to modern, well-run farms that are far better than many I have seen in Europe,” Pepper says.
“Now I will have to go back to culling them as a bobby at four days old for $30 – where is the logic?”
On the flipside, it has been welcomed by animal welfare groups such as SAFE and the SPCA.
The latter’s chief executive Andrea Midgen says media coverage of numerous disasters in which exported animals have suffered or been killed, resulted in overwhelming public support for the ban of live exports.
“We know that New Zealanders are appalled by live exports and we are thrilled the Government has listened to the experts, scientific evidence and the general public. It’s a historic moment for animal welfare in NZ,” Midgen said.
“Enough is enough, and we are relieved that those elected to represent us have done the right thing. Common sense has prevailed.”