Animal welfare legislation

MPI leads and facilitates the management of animal welfare policy and practice in New Zealand. MPI promotes policies for the humane treatment of animals and is an important participant in the ongoing animal welfare debate.

The New Zealand Animal Welfare Strategy

The New Zealand Animal Welfare Strategy sets out a high-level framework for how animals are treated in New Zealand and provides a formal foundation for New Zealand's animal welfare legislation and policy.

Download the New Zealand Animal Welfare Strategy [PDF, 259 KB]

The Animal Welfare Act 1999

The Animal Welfare Act sets out how people should take care of and act towards animals. MPI and the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the RNZSPCA) jointly enforce the Act.

The Act is a clear statement to New Zealanders – and to the rest of the world – that animals in New Zealand have a right to proper and sufficient care.

The Act establishes a duty of care for animals

The Act sets out the obligations of animal owners or people in charge of animals. They have to meet an animal's physical, health, and behavioural needs, and must alleviate pain or distress.

The Act defines 'physical, health, and behavioural needs' as:

  • proper and sufficient food and water
  • adequate shelter
  • the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
  • appropriate physical handling
  • protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, injury and disease.

Ill treatment or neglect of animals is a crime

The Act contains provisions to prevent ill treatment and inadequate care of animals. It also regulates the use of traps and devices that have the potential to cause pain or distress to animals.

Welfare certificate needed to export live animals

The Act makes it an offence to export a live animal without an animal welfare export certificate (although there are some exemptions for low-risk situations, like short flights). This ensures that any animal welfare risks faced by the animals during their travel are minimised.

An order made under the Customs and Excise Act 1996 prohibits the export of live animals for slaughter, unless the risks to New Zealand's trade reputation can be adequately managed.

Animals in research, testing, and teaching

The Animal Welfare Act sets out an ethical framework for the use of animals in research, testing, and teaching. Before a project using animals can take place, it must be approved by an animal ethics committee, which is also responsible for monitoring the project. Every project that uses animals must demonstrate that the benefits of the research (for example, to the maintenance of human health or the production and productivity of animals) are not outweighed by the likely harm to the animals being used for research.

Animal protection laws strengthened in 2015

The May 2015 amendments to the Act strengthen the protection of animals in New Zealand by allowing for stronger animal welfare standards, broadening enforcement powers, and other measures to improve the clarity and transparency of the animal welfare system.

Animal welfare regulations July 2016

Changes to the Animal Welfare Act gave us the ability to make regulations we can enforce.

The first regulations under the Animal Welfare Act were gazetted (released) in July 2016. More regulations are in development.

Codes of welfare

The Act does not provide detailed requirements – instead, these are contained in regulations and codes of welfare. Codes are issued under the Act and contain minimum standards and recommended best practice.

Failure to meet a minimum standard in a code of welfare can be used as evidence to support a prosecution for a crime under the Animal Welfare Act.

Recommendations for best practice are included in codes of welfare to encourage higher levels of animal welfare.

Ministerial advisory committees

The Act requires 2 independent advisory committees to be in place. The committees give the Minister for Primary Industries independent advice relating to the welfare of animals. For more information about the committees, including summaries of their meetings, refer to the:

Animal welfare complaints

To report cases of animal ill-treatment or cruelty call 0800 00 83 33.

Who to contact

If you have questions about animal welfare, email

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