Ensuring animal welfare standards are upheld in international trade policy
There are significant differences between animal welfare standards across the globe, with billions of farmed animals still confined in factory farms.
Despite the comparatively higher welfare laws in regions like New Zealand, the EU, the UK, and Switzerland they import a large proportion of animal products from countries that don’t meet their own standards, effectively outsourcing cruel practices overseas and contributing to the suffering of animals in those countries under practices that would be illegal locally.
Importing low-welfare products without ensuring compliance with the domestic standards of higher-welfare countries not only goes against shared morals and values of treating animals ethically but also puts local farmers at an unfair competitive disadvantage. It may also fuel unsustainable practices, exacerbating the climate crisis.
New Zealand imports
New Zealand's animal welfare laws are more extensive than those of many other countries. However, this is undermined by importing a significant amount of products from regions with little or no animal protection standards, such as China, Thailand, the US, and Australia.
53%* of farmed and wild-caught fish imported into New Zealand come from China, Vietnam, and Thailand - all countries with no welfare standards around rearing, handling, and slaughter. New Zealand outlines some protections for fish at the time of killing and during transport.
46%* of chicken meat imported to New Zealand comes from Thailand which has no binding guidelines on the conditions of rearing, transport and slaughter. New Zealand has some minimum standards regarding stocking density and slaughter.
Broiler Chick, Thailand. Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media
New Zealand imports a small amount of eggs. 76%* of which come from China where hens are allowed to be kept in battery cages. Battery cages are illegal in New Zealand from 2023**.
Battery cage farm in Shenyang, China. Credit: Kelly Guerin/We Animals Media.
*FAOSTAT, 2021, **Colony (enriched) cages are still used.
Two-thirds* of pork consumed in New Zealand comes from overseas. Much of it from countries like the US where there is no federal ban on sow stalls and farrowing crates, leading to pigs being confined to narrow cages. New Zealand has banned sow stalls, and farrowing crates are being phased out by 2025.
Sow in a farrowing crate, New Zealand 2017. Credit: Farmwatch.
85%* of wool imported into New Zealand comes from Australia which allows mulesing, removing parts of the skin from live sheep without anaesthetic. In New Zealand performing mulesing can result in a criminal conviction.
Around 40 million ducks and geese are force-fed for foie gras in the EU every year. Foie gras production is illegal in New Zealand, but it is still imported.
Foie Gras production, Spain. Credit: Luis Tato / We Animals Media.
Animal Policy International is collaborating with policymakers, farmers, and NGOs towards responsible imports that align with standards and expectations in higher-welfare regions, create fairer market conditions for local farmers, and help to promote higher animal welfare standards in low-welfare countries.