Will ruling by Brazilian judge hold? Will New Zealand agriculture minister keep his seat? Will Australia ever do anything effective to stop live export disasters?
SAO PAULO, Brazil; WELLINGTON, New Zealand––Upstaging a New Zealand ban on live cattle and sheep exports, to take effect on April 30, 2023, Brazilian federal judge Djalma Gomes on April 27, 2023 ordered a halt to live cattle shipments from all Brazilian ports.
Ruling on behalf of the National Forum for the Protection & Defense of Animals, the largest Brazilian animal advocacy group, in a case pending since 2017, Gomes wrote that she reached her verdict because, “Animals are not things. They are sentient living beings, that is, individuals who feel hunger, thirst, pain, cold, anguish, fear.”
Taken by surprise by Gomes’ decision, Brazilian agriculture minister Carlos Favaro told the Reuters news service that he had not yet discussed filing an appeal with the national solicitor general, but an appeal of the Gomes verdict would appear to be practically inevitable, given that Brazil leads the world in live cattle exports.
However, Brazil also leads the world in exports of frozen cattle carcasses. Altogether, Brazil accounts for almost a quarter of all beef exports, worldwide.
New Zealand exporters “scramble to pack the last ships””
The Gomes verdict came down as New Zealand cattle exporters scrambled to herd as many animals as possible aboard ships and shove them out to sea ahead of the April 30, 2023 deadline for ending the live export traffic.
“First announced in 2021,” recounted Virginia Fallon, senior writer and columnist for the New Zealand news magazine Stuff, “the ban allowed a winding down period of two years. As the clock ticked down, those who peddle in agony have scrambled to pack the last ships.
“In the past two years,” Fallon said, “New Zealand has exported 259,640 cows to China, more than in the previous six years combined,” including 6,000 shipped from Timaru only hours before she wrote.
Bred first, then slaughtered
“Once they arrive, they’ll apparently be used for breeding, not slaughter,” Fallon charged, “because live export for that was outlawed in 2007. So definitely not slaughter; absolutely, unequivocally not that.
“Meanwhile, in the wake of their departure,” Fallon continued, “the Ministry for Primary Industries was still reviewing circumstances around footage of thousands of the animals awaiting export. The animal welfare group Safe says it shows that there are disgraceful conditions without shade, shelter, or grass. The property owner disputes the claims.”
Fallon warned that the apparent animal advocacy victory over live exports might be short-lived.
“The National Party is promising to allow live exports to resume is elected to government this October,” Fallon reminded, “and last month Mark Cameron of the Association of Consumers & Taxpayers Party put in a Member’s Bill to repeal the ban.
“Suffering has been immense; must not be repeated”
“Both parties will point to supposed economic benefits for New Zealand,” Fallon predicted, “ignoring that live exports by sea accounted for only 0.6% of primary sector exports in 2021.
“By the way, in case you’re thinking Labour is some great compassionate overlord,” Fallon added, “that party has stalled long-awaited decisions on the future of greyhound racing,” and “haven’t budged on banning rodeo, horse racing, or – for goodness sakes – live export by air.
“Ultimately, in the face of campaigns built on cruelty,” Fallon finished, “we must remember both what’s at stake and why it was banned in the first place. The suffering has been immense; it must not be repeated.
New Zealand announcement of live export ban started trend
New Zealand agriculture minister Damien O’Connor announced a permanent halt to live animal exports by sea on April 14, 2021.
O’Connor, though his announcement was not a complete surprise, left New Zealand agribusiness, the international animal welfare community, and rival nations in the livestock export trade all scrambling like hoofed animals on a heaving steel deck, slippery with manure, to figure out what it might mean.
Explained the industry news web site Beef Central, “New Zealand banned the export of livestock for slaughter in 2008, but has [until now] continued to allow the export of livestock for breeding or dairy production purposes,” almost exclusively to China.
New Zealand had reportedly exported live sheep, the focus of decades of humane protest against the vastly larger Australian live export trade, only once since 2008.
Germany pushes for EU live export ban
The New Zealand live cattle export trade, at the time of O’Connor’s 2021 declaration, was worth about $500 million per year, but the New Zealand frozen meat export trade was almost 100 times bigger, at $5.6 billion per year, accounting for 14.6% of all New Zealand export revenue.
The Gomes court ruling in Brazil and the impending end to New Zealand live exports came seven months after Germany in October 2022 banned live animal exports to nations outside of the European Union, and asked the European Parliament to impose a live export ban on all member nations.
“That came as a surprising policy reversal,” assessed Vox writer Sophie Kevany on January 16, 2023.
“The European Union is [collectively] the world’s biggest livestock exporter,” Kevany explained, “and Germany is one of the top players in that bloc, selling almost 315 million cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry to other European Union countries and almost 9 million animals outside the EU in 2019.”
Australian observer scheme amounts to “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”
Australia, meanwhile, remains the nation most often associated with live export catastrophes over the past 30 years. Most notorious was the 2003 refusal of both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to allow the livestock transport Cormo Express to unload 57,000 sheep who had been exposed to a disease called orf.
About 5,500 of the sheep died during 12 weeks at sea. The surviving sheep were eventually donated to Eritrea.
Many similar but mostly less publicized debacles led eventually to an independent onboard observer scheme introduced in 2018.
14% observer coverage
However, reported Guardian correspondent Christopher Knaus on February 19, 2023, “Independent observers boarded just 11 of 78 eligible live export voyages between May 2022 and the end of December 2022.
“That is despite the government clearly telling vessel operators to expect observers on any eligible voyages.
The operators of 33 of the 67 eligible voyages that did not take observers, Knaus said, “told the government they simply didn’t have sufficient space on board for an extra person.
“A spokesperson told the Guardian that the government did not want to displace existing crew on live export ships,” Knaus continued.
“Observers were also kept off 20 eligible ships heading to China due to the country’s Covid restrictions last year. Another 13 voyages left with too short notice for an observer to accompany them.”
Understated Knaus, “The independent monitoring scheme established in 2018 after 2,400 sheep died while being exported by Australian exporter Emanuel Exports has weakened considerably since its resumption from a Covid-related pause.”