Editorial: Cow export concern overstated

It was predictable. Clearly so.

But is the fate of the animals at the centre of a new controversy as clearly predictable as some would have us believe? It's hard to argue that, in my view.

What was clear when the Herald ran the story yesterday about 7200 dairy cows being transported to China to be involved in the dairy industry there was that there would be criticisms, outrage even, over the announcement. And that came, but it certainly wasn't widespread. There was the statement from the Green Party about greater restrictions being placed on the export of live animals during a review of the Animal Welfare Act. It said the review should be about minimising live exports.

Green list MP Julie Anne Genter went as far as to say that "We can sell our good stock to other countries through exporting genetic material. We shouldn't be sending the animals themselves".

She added that "the criteria by which the minister allows animals to be exported also need to include considerations about the ongoing welfare of animals in the importing country".

Which seems a valid point, but when placed alongside the previous paragraph is somewhat confusing. If there are concerns about the welfare of dairy cattle in China, then what's the difference between cows we send from here potentially being mistreated and cows born there that we contribute genetic material to being mistreated, when it comes down to it?

Of course, there are legitimate concerns, and these were echoed by a handful of commenters on the Herald's story, about the way the dairy cows will be treated on the voyage to China, as well as once they're in China. Those should be raised, and if those expressing opposition can advance genuine evidence that the animals are likely to be mistreated, then the company carrying out the transfer should be confronted over it.

But a couple of factors suggest that this may not be as big a concern as some would like to make out. The first is that the Herald understands such transfers already take place; it's just the sheer size of this one that has brought it to widespread attention.

Secondly, these are highly prized dairy cows, for which the importers have paid an extra $500 above the going rate per animal to secure them. Rather than mistreat them then, there should be a concerted effort to keep them healthy and productive and able to reproduce.

Of course, Ms Genter is right that we have no guarantee over the cows' safety, but mistreating them would be tantamount to squandering an expensive investment.

The Timaru Herald