Review of livestock exports

New Zealand is reviewing its approach to the export trade in livestock.

About the review

Cabinet has recently directed the Ministry for Primary Industries to lead a review of options to improve the welfare of exported livestock and protect our international reputation. 

The review will cover cattle, sheep, goats, and deer.  It will look at a wide range of options – from strengthening existing standards to an absolute or conditional prohibition on some or all parts of the export trade. 

MPI wants to lead an open and transparent review that allows everyone to have their say and considers all interests. 

The review will consider both new measures within existing law and new regulations. Decisions on preferred policy options are expected to be made in early 2020. This will give stakeholders clarity about the next steps, including the timeframe for any regulatory changes – if the review recommends them. 

During the review process, any new application for the export of livestock will be considered against New Zealand’s existing rules. 

Read more about the animal welfare export certificate process

About the export trade in livestock

The export of livestock: 

  • is a source of income for our rural communities
  • has been an important part of our trading economy
  • is an important element of the trading relationship with some key partner countries. 

Our livestock are being exported as breeding stock to help develop the dairy and livestock industries in importing countries. A conditional prohibition on export for slaughter was introduced in 2007. 

Livestock from New Zealand are highly sought after for a number of reasons, including: 

  • improving the genetics of stock in importing countries
  • helping developing countries to boost their food production
  • re-populating farms after natural disasters.

Why review the export trade in livestock?

Animal welfare is important – to animals, to people, and to New Zealand. 

MPI conducts a thorough pre-export certification process before the director-general of MPI grants any animal welfare export certificate.  

Exporters must now report on the condition of the animals 30 days after they arrive in the importing country. They must also provide information on the post-arrival welfare of the animals, including their final point of destination, and transport arrangements.

People importing our high-value breeding stock into their countries are making a significant investment. It is in their interests to ensure the animals are kept in excellent condition after they arrive. 

However, New Zealand does not have jurisdiction over the live animals it exports once they are unloaded into the importing country. 

It’s time to review New Zealand’s export rules to ensure they are the right ones to maintain our high standards of animal welfare and protect our international reputation. 

The area is a complex one. The review will consider factors including: 

  • public expectations here and overseas
  • the impacts on rural New Zealand
  • our international legal obligations, trade commitments, and trading relationships.

What options will the livestock export review consider?

The review will consider a broad range of measures, including:

  • options to improve animal welfare practices within existing regulations, and
  • options for new regulations to prohibit – either absolutely or conditionally – specified types of livestock exports. 

Read the Minister’s media release

Read the Cabinet paper [PDF, 1.7 MB]

Options to improve animal welfare practices within existing regulations

These options would both: 

  • tighten up our current system, and
  • improve how we operate.

This would give us more confidence that the right animals are getting to the right place in the right way. 

1. Continuous improvement under current regulatory settings 

This would include actions such as ensuring the conditions imposed on exports by the director-general reflect new and emerging information and knowledge. 

The director-general must be confident that any animal welfare export certificate issued protects: 

  • the welfare of the animals being exported, and
  • New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible exporter. 

This is a requirement of the Animal Welfare Act 1999. Under the Act, the director-general can impose extensive conditions on a certificate. 

2. Targeted interventions, new operational policy, and continuous improvement 

MPI would: 

  • undertake targeted interventions, and
  • develop new operational policy.

 These would be based on specific risks to animal welfare and would fall under existing legislation. 

3. Consultation with export markets on alternatives to live animal exports 

MPI and other government agencies would work with importing countries to: 

  • understand why they need or want live animals, and
  • explore alternatives. 

Examples of alternatives are exporting semen, embryos, or cross-bred animals that are more compatible to the destination.

Options to prohibit specific animal exports – absolutely or conditionally

Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, regulations could prohibit – either absolutely or conditionally – specified types of live animal exports. 

1. Absolute prohibition on the export of livestock

This would involve developing regulations to set out which animals could not be exported.

Regulations could also prohibit a mode of export – for instance, by sea or by air.

2. Conditional prohibition on the export of livestock 

Conditional prohibition would effectively shift the approach – from generally approving livestock exports, if they meet New Zealand’s export rules, to prohibiting them unless the director-general grants prior approval. 

In approving an export, the director-general would have to be satisfied that the risks could be mitigated to: 

  • the welfare of the animals being exported, and
  • New Zealand’s reputation. 

The director-general could also impose conditions on any approval. 

The exporter would then need to obtain an animal welfare export certificate under the usual pre-export certification process.

Who to contact

If you have any questions, email

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