Monday, May 4, 2009

Spelling it out

In recent weeks there has been heated debate on the issue of live sheep exports for slaughter.

There have been claims that a “six-year moratorium” has been lifted and that the Government is resuming the live sheep for slaughter trade next month. This is simply not the case.

An irresponsible claim by the Green Party, in March, fuelled speculation that I, as Agriculture Minister, had opened the doors to live exports with total disregard for New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible exporter.

And, worse, with complete disregard for the very high bar we set on animal welfare issues.

Last weekend I spoke at the national conference of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I know many of their members are worried about the issue – I have responded to hundreds of letters – and I was keen to spell out the real facts.

New Zealand stopped livestock exports to Saudi Arabia following a horrific incident involving Australian sheep on the Cormo Express in 2003. Since then, the governments of Saudi Arabia and New Zealand have had ongoing discussions about opportunities around the export of live sheep for slaughter.

This was not begun under National’s watch; the talks were initiated by the previous government. They must be honoured, but for trade to resume there are two matters to satisfy - one is the transport of stock (a very long journey by any standards), and the other is around humane, commercial slaughter on arrival. These are two very, very high hurdles to meet.

I want to absolutely assure you that New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible exporter will be maintained.

The fact is New Zealand will not be resuming a live sheep for slaughter trade any time soon. The export of livestock to Saudi Arabia for slaughter will remain prohibited unless New Zealand is totally satisfied that the highest animal welfare and animal safety standards are met both on the journey and on arrival.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

New Zealand is a great nation and I will not recklessly jeopardise our hard-earned reputation.

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