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Report Calls on New Zealand to Close Animal Welfare Standards Gap for Imports

New report from Animal Policy International urges action on imports that undermine Kiwis’ support for higher animal welfare standards

A new report has found that a significant amount of animal products imported into New Zealand are produced using farming methods prohibited in the country due to animal welfare concerns.

The report, "Closing the Welfare Gap: Why New Zealand Must Apply Its Animal Protection Standards to Imports", by Animal Policy International, released in collaboration with the New Zealand SPCA and the New Zealand Animal Law Association, analyses New Zealand's main animal product imports. It reveals that many come from countries that allow practices like confinement of egg-laying hens in battery cages, pregnant sows in sow stalls, and mulesing of sheep - all banned in New Zealand due to welfare issues but still used by major trading partners.

The report is timely as New Zealand is currently negotiating a trade deal with India, raising concerns about the potential increase in imports of low welfare animal products. It recommends that New Zealand extend its animal protection laws to cover all products placed on the New Zealand market, regardless of origin. It says not only is this supported by public expectations, it is permitted under World Trade Organisation rules to protect public morals.

"Countries banning intensive practices at home must ensure imports meet the same high welfare standards," says Mandy Carter, Co-Executive Director, Animal Policy International. "By extending its laws to imports, New Zealand can uphold its strong reputation for prioritising farmed animal welfare and send a clear message that New Zealand and its trading partners should work cooperatively to ensure trade does not come at the cost of animal suffering.”

Executive Summary

New Zealand has some higher farmed animal welfare standards compared to other countries. However, a significant share of animal product imports are produced using methods that would be illegal in New Zealand, undermining Kiwis’ support for higher welfare and impacting local farmers.

Examples of Low-welfare Imports

An analysis of some of New Zealand’s main trading partners reveals significant gaps in their animal welfare regulations compared to domestic legislation.

  • Sow Stalls: Over 90% of pork imported into New Zealand in 2022 came from countries like Canada, United States and some European countries that allow the use of sow stalls, in which mother pigs are confined to narrow cages where they cannot perform basic behaviours, such as being able to turn around. New Zealand banned sow stalls in 2016 after a public outcry.

  • Mulesing: All of the wool imported to New Zealand in 2022 came from Australia where mulesing is a widely used practice. “It entails removing parts of the skin from live sheep, causing severe immediate and long-term pain to lambs - often without pain relief. In New Zealand performing mulesing can result in a criminal conviction.

  • Battery Cages: 86% of liquid egg imports in 2022 came from China and Australia where egg-laying hens can be kept in battery cages where there is less space than an A4 sheet of paper per bird leaving them unable to perform natural behaviour such as dust bathing and nesting. New Zealand’s ban on battery cages came into force in 2023.

  • Fish Slaughter: 73% of fish imported into New Zealand in 2022 came from Thailand, China, Australia, and Vietnam - all countries with no welfare standards around slaughter. New Zealand has a Code of Welfare (Commercial Slaughter) 2018 that concerns aquatic animals at the time of slaughter.

These practices lead to poorer welfare outcomes for the animals and are inconsistent with public expectations.

Impact on Farmers

New Zealand is importing goods that undermine the production standards that we are holding New Zealand farmers to and wanting them to aspire to. Already around two thirds of pork consumed in New Zealand is imported. Future free trade agreements, such as with India, may further open New Zealand’s market for low-welfare imports and may further shift production overseas, if the same standards are not required from imports.

Public Support is High

A Horizon Research poll from June 2023 shows that 83% of New Zealanders agree that imported products from outside New Zealand should respect the same animal welfare standards as those applied in New Zealand.

Solution: Extending Animal Welfare Standards to Imports

World Trade Organisation (WTO) case law suggests that import and sales bans based on animal welfare concerns are compliant with its rules under the public morals exemption provided for in General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Article XX. Therefore, New Zealand can extend animal welfare standards to all products placed on its market, regardless of origin.

Applying New Zealand animal welfare standards to imported animal products would meet Kiwis’ expectations and ensure that the legislative intent of better welfare standards are met.

Read the full report.

Read the media release.

Hens in a battery cage in Australia (2019)
Hens in a battery cage in Australia (2019) © Seb Alex / We Animals Media


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