More than 5000 dairy cows are about to be shipped from New Zealand to China by the Saudi businessman involved in the so-called Saudi sheep scandal.
Critics say Sheik Hamood Al-Ali Al-Khalaf's chequered animal welfare record means the government must guarantee the journey will not prove another debacle.
The death of thousands of sheep on their way to the Middle East on another boat owned by Mr Al-Khalaf in 2003 led to the banning of live sheep exports.
Then, two years ago, nearly all the lambs of 900 heavily-pregnant sheep the government flew to Mr Al-Khalaf's farm in the Saudi desert died soon after birth. It was part of a much criticised deal, in which the government gave more than $11 million in cash, livestock and agricultural equipment to the Saudi livestock importer. A report on the deal last year found no evidence of corruption, but criticised government processes.
The Ministry for Primary Industries has received an export application for 5300 dairy breeding cattle.
Mr Al-Khalaf owns the livestock carrier Awassi Express which is heading to New Zealand to transport the cows. It is due to dock in Napier in a few days.
Labour Party primary industry spokesperson Damien O'Connor said the public needed reassuring the animals would be safe.
"Well I think we need to know that there's not some kind of deal done that leaves the animals at risk.
"We need to be assured they have the very highest standards of animal welfare both on the ship and then of course once they get to China," Mr O'Connor said.
Federated Farmers' dairy chairman, Andrew Hoggard said he believed the thousands of cows about to be shipped to China would be treated humanely during their voyage.
The country has a clean record when it comes to exporting cows to China, he said.
"We've been doing the shipments regularly to China for over a decade now and I don't recall any incidents happening beyond what was the norm. You know, if there was an issue with cattle transport, then that would have been brought up, but it hasn't," Mr Hoggard said.
But animal rights organisation SAFE director Hans Kriek said not only was the voyage to China tough on the animals, there was no guarantee the cows would be treated humanely at their destination.
"These animals, then, in the end, will be slaughtered at the end of their productive life, which we don't even know how long that is in some of these countries.
"They will be slaughtered, for instance, without stunning as is required in New Zealand.
"We are sending our animals to countries that may well kill them in a way that would be illegal in New Zealand - and you could go to jail if you did it here."
Livestock exporting firm responds
Australian livestock exporting firm Landmark International, which is planning to ship the cows, said the highest standards of animal welfare would be met on the voyage.
Only 4500 cows would be carried on a ship capable of taking 16,000 and they would be accompanied by three experienced stockmen and a large crew, it said.
"This clearly allows the Landmark consignment to utilise additional space requirements as required to ensure the highest possible animal welfare outcome and comfort during the voyage for this high-value dairy consignment," the company's statement said.
The company declined to disclose its Chinese customer and the company's export manager, Stephen Reynolds, said company policy did not allow him to give interviews.
Asked by RNZ if there would be any independent observers aboard the Awassi Express the company responded: "All preparation and the voyage are conducted adhering to NZ government requirements and standards."
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said animals could be shipped humanely if there was appropriate veterinary care.
He said selling New Zealand dairy cows to China was short-term thinking.
"It's economic treason, there's no shortcut through what they're trying to do here...we're just wantonly making competition for ourselves," Mr Peters said.
Mr O'Connor was not sure the shipment made strategic sense for New Zealand.
"It does beg the question, is New Zealand benefiting from such a large export of high-quality genetic material from our dairy industry?
"If we're selling our best genetics to the Chinese then that makes it harder for us to compete in that Chinese market."
The Ministry for Primary Industries said livestock exporters must meet requirements around water, food, space and having suitably-experienced stockmen and/or veterinarians before it issued an export permit.
Minister Nathan Guy would not comment because the export certificate was not yet issued.