19 Nov 2015

Government says more sheep could go to Saudi farm

8:25 am on 19 November 2015

The government is not ruling out sending more sheep to a controversial demonstration farm in the Saudi desert, despite the death of lambs there.

But one of the world's most high profile animal rights organisations is calling on the government to abandon the farm, warning it is putting New Zealand's reputation for animal welfare at risk.

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New Zealand currently has a ban in place on live exports of animals. Photo: 123rf.com

The Government flew 900 pregnant sheep to the Saudi farm late last year as part of an $11 million deal with the farm's owner, Hamood al-Ali al-Khalaf, whose anger over the cancellation of live sheep exports was preventing a free trade deal with the Gulf states.

Nearly all the lambs died and the government is refusing to release a report it conducted into their deaths.

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National MP, Nathan Guy.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy would not rule out more sheep going to Saudi Arabia.

"If there's an application then the Director General [of the Ministry for Primary Industries] will need to consider it.

"Potentially there could be sheep, they could get them from elsewhere, they could approach New Zealand again," Mr Guy said.

He claimed the Saudi farm had a good track record on animal welfare.

"The farm in the Saudi desert has had very good animal welfare standards, in terms of transportation that MPI oversaw - unfortunately there was a climatic event that occurred up there and that was combined with some illness of animals where there was some losses."

Australian campaign co-ordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Claire Fryer said New Zealand had an excellent reputation for animal welfare, but the government's Saudi farm was undermining it.

"PETA's extremely concerned that despite, obviously, New Zealand's ban on commercial live exports, large numbers of these animals are still being sent to countries with few or no laws to protect them.

"I think New Zealand has become known for often leading the way in regards to animal welfare and also has become known for listening to its citizens in regards to animal welfare concerns.

"The fact that people are not being given the full information in relation to these animals is a major concern."

Exporting pregnant sheep purportedly for breeding, as New Zealand was doing, was worse than exporting sheep for slaughter, Ms Fryer said.

"And even if these lambs that they're having do survive, they face any amount of abuse and neglect and a slaughter that would be illegal if they were being slaughtered in New Zealand or Australia."

Yesterday, in Parliament, Mr Guy said he had not read the secret report into the lambs' deaths.

But all the same he said it was not appropriate for the public to see it.

"The information sought is commercially sensitive and was provided to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise with an obligation of confidence - I do not think it is in the public interest to provide it to the House."

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise produced the report and flew animal experts to the Saudi farm to investigate the mass deaths.

NZTE is refusing to release the report, saying it produced it for the farmer.

The Chief Ombudsman is investigating that refusal.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said he agreed with PETA that no more sheep should be sent to the Saudi farm.

But he did not think the government would make the same mistake again.

"We could have another incident, but I think that because it turned out that it was such a dodgy deal in the first place," he said.

"I think that the political room that the Government has to send yet more sheep up to the Saudi businessman, who is involved in all of this and who owns the farm, is extremely limited, so I don't think and I certainly hope we don't see a repeat of this affair, because it is corruption."

Correspondence released under the Official Information Act this year showed as soon as Government officials became aware of the mass lamb deaths they began devising a media strategy in case the deaths became public.

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