IN THE NEWS: Sri Lanka dairy scheme blamed for cow deaths unlikely to send more from NZ

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IN THE NEWS: On APR 5, 2019

The Australian company behind a live export programme which allegedly left hundreds of cattle dead says it is unlikely to ship any more animals from New Zealand under the scheme.

Animal export company Wellard is contracted to deliver 20,000 dairy cows to Sri Lanka under a programme set up to improve the country's fresh milk supply. 

It has so far shipped 2000 cattle from New Zealand and a further 3000 from Australia. About 500 of the 5000 animals are reported to have died.  

Six cattle from New Zealand died on the voyage to Sri Lanka, data from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) shows.

A spokesperson for the Western Australian company said it was unlikely any more cattle would be sent from New Zealand under the programme.

"Any future consignments of cattle, which will only occur after changes have been made to the programme, are likely to be from Australia," a spokesperson for the company said.

It would not confirm which farm in New Zealand supplied the cows, but the shipment reportedly left from Napier.

Although the scheme was backed by the Australian government, MPI said it had no direct involvement.

There had been no shipments of cattle to Sri Lanka since 2017 and no further applications for exports there had been made, a spokesperson said.

Of the eight live sheep and cattle shipments in 2017 the Sri Lanka voyage had the highest number of deaths proportional to the number of stock being transported.

Live cattle shipments in 2017 led to 19 deaths.

"This shipment was subject to all of our usual export approval procedures. Our verification services inspectors were involved in our usual role ensuring animal welfare requirements were met before and during transport.

"We are of course very concerned to hear of any animals in poor conditions, and it's even more worrying to hear of people living in poor conditions and struggling to care for animals that are their livelihood."

However, the ministry had no jurisdiction to address either of those issues outside New Zealand beyond its role in ensuring export requirements for animal welfare were met before and during export.

In a tweet on Thursday, Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor said he had instructed MPI to conduct a "thorough review" of all proposed live exports from New Zealand to ensure animal welfare obligations would be met.

But animal welfare group Safe said it was time O'Connor stopped "sitting on his hands" and put a stop to live exports of breeding animals.

"O'Connor has a choice. He can choose whether New Zealand continues to export vulnerable cows into such appalling conditions," Safe ambassador Hans Kriek said

"Wellard is planning to export a further 15,000 cows, but O'Connor can choose to protect New Zealand's reputation and refuse to export any more cows."

In 2018 there were four live cattle shipments, all to China, with eight fatalities.

New Zealand's largest company Fonterra contracts a number of Sri Lankan farmers to supply it with milk, although there is no suggestion these farmers are involved in animal maltreatment.

Wellard said it would check with its Sri Lanka representative as to whether any of the exported cows ended up on Fonterra supply farms.

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