IN THE NEWS: Hundreds of cattle exported to Sri Lanka allegedly died in 'horrific' conditions

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IN THE NEWS: On APR 4, 2019

Hundreds of New Zealand and Australian cattle exported to Sri Lanka to set up a dairy programme have allegedly died in appalling conditions, animal welfare group Safe says. 

Australia's state broadcaster the ABC has run a story alleging the Australian-Government sponsored programme has left farmers broke, and in some cases, suicidal.

Australian animal export company Wellard has acknowledged problems with the programme, which has so far sent 5000 cattle out of a planned 20,000. About 500 of the 5000 have died.

"A handful of the 68 farmers selected by the Sri Lankan government to receive some of the 5000 cattle shipped to date did however fail to follow the prescribed herd management advice processes, which has caused some animal welfare issues on those farms. As a result, the farmer selection criteria will change," Wellard said in a statement. 

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.

Safe spokesman Hans Kriek said Wellard failed to provide promised support, according to the Sri Lankan farmers, many of whom were now barely able to support their own families or animals. 

New Zealand's apparent lack of concern for the fate of animals once they left its shores was "deplorable". 

"Live export corporations are sending animals to far-flung countries where untold horrors could await them. The horrific images from ABC today prove that," Kriek said

"Once a cow leaves New Zealand shores, we have no idea what happens to her. The European Union is ahead of New Zealand on this. They voted in February to end the live export of animals to countries that fall below their animal welfare standards. We need to follow their lead. Our reputation is at risk if the Government allows animals to be exported into such appalling conditions."

In a letter to Safe, Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor said he had no plans to stop the export of breeding animals. 

"I was made aware of this issue in January and sought advice from MPI officials at that time.

"I am comfortable that New Zealand has a comprehensive legislative framework in place that covers the wellbeing of live animals being exported. The legal requirements are set out in the Animal Welfare Act.

"New Zealand does not routinely export live animals to Sri Lanka and there have been no exports there for two years," O'Connor said.

In 2017, New Zealand exported $94 million worth of cattle overseas, most of them to China.

The ABC said farmers and animal rights groups, as well as Sri Lanka's auditor-general, want the export project stopped because they say it is poorly planned and inhumane.

The farmers said the "high-yielding, pregnant dairy cows" they were promised were overpriced, unhealthy and infertile.

A Ministry for Primary Industries spokeswoman said the programme was an Australian one in which MPI had no direct involvement.  

"It is of course very concerning to hear of any animals in poor conditions, and even more worrying to hear of people living in poor conditions and struggling to care for animals that are their livelihood. MPI has no jurisdiction to address either of these issues outside New Zealand beyond during the export of animals."

The shipment of 2000 cattle from Napier to Sri Lanka occurred in April 2017. It was subject to usual export approval procedures. MPI's Animal Welfare inspectors were involved to ensure animal welfare requirements were met before and during transport. There had been no further applications for exports there since 2017.

The spokeswoman said MPI did not have jurisdiction after exported animals arrived at their destination.

"We do not track the final destination of animals. Our relationship is with the exporter who must state the purpose of the export, and meet high standards to receive an Animal Welfare Exports Certificate.

"An MPI veterinarian will only issue the certificate if all requirements for the welfare of the animals have been met. These requirements include the health status of animals before departure, adequate supply of water, food, space, and facilities during the voyage and having suitably experienced stockmen and/or veterinarians on board."

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