Animal Welfare in New Zealand

Friday, 29 July 2022

The UK-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is the first trade deal in which New Zealand has agreed an animal welfare chapter. Alongside each country’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) commitments, the key objective within the deal is to enhance cooperation between the countries on the welfare of farmed animals. The FTA recognises animals as sentient beings and commits to not weakening animal welfare in order to encourage trade. Also, there is a mutual recognition in the deal that although the two countries have different farming practices, they both implement high priority to animal welfare to provide comparable outcomes. Furthermore, there is also commitment to increase cooperation to enhance animal welfare standards.

In New Zealand livestock farming is predominantly extensive, with limited use of any housing or supplementary feed and with outdoor lambing and calving. This is discussed in more detail in the Production Systems article, which explains that farming in New Zealand is more extensive than in the UK as there is a larger area of land available for agriculture, due to a smaller population and greater land space. This does mean there are differences between UK and New Zealand livestock production which can result in differences in animal welfare. However, as discussed, the trade deal recognises that although there are differences in production, the outcome demonstrates high priority on animal welfare.

The New Zealand Animal Welfare Act 1999 is in place for all people in charge of animals, which requires compliance with the minimum standards for animal care and management in the Codes of Welfare and the regulations issued under the Act. Among many, there are Codes relevant to sheep and beef cattle, dairy cattle, transport and general care and procedures. The Act and Codes are statutory requirements, and failure to comply with the regulations may results in a fine or criminal conviction. However, there has been some criticism that some of the issues within the Codes are not directly enforceable and that the recommended best practices are non-binding.

The Animal Protection Index ranks 50 countries across the world based on their animal welfare standards for farm animals, pets, animals in captivity and those used in research. In 2014, New Zealand, UK, Switzerland, and Austria were given the highest rating ‘A’. These ratings have recently been updated and have reduced for both the UK and New Zealand. The UK is now rated B, and New Zealand is rated C. Both countries are rated C for the category “protecting animals used in farming” which demonstrates that the animal welfare standards in farming are at a similar level. The justification for reducing ratings were topics similar to those discussed by the when it gave evidence in Westminster on international trade. It stated that the animal welfare standards in the UK and New Zealand are broadly equivalent, and that in some areas New Zealand standards may be above the UK’s. The RSPCA stated the UK was ahead of New Zealand in areas such as bans on sow stalls, more free range hens, and general cleanliness when it comes to poultry. However, the UK is behind New Zealand in terms of allowing non-stun slaughter, greater lameness in sheep, legal live exports, and poorer access to the outdoors for dairy cattle.

There are also differences in regard to humane slaughter and slaughter facilities. Since 2018, there has been a legal requirement for all abattoirs in England to have CCTV installed. There is also a legislative requirement for all animals to be stunned prior to slaughter, with the exception of those destined for consumption by people of faith. There is no requirement for CCTV in slaughterhouses in New Zealand. However, it is compulsory for all animals to be stunned before commercial slaughter. Encouragingly, the UK Government has confirmed that it will continue to approve slaughterhouses in New Zealand to ensure that the standards are equivalent to the UK’s and ensure the import ban on meat not slaughtered to UK standards.

Beef and Lamb NZ is the New Zealand livestock levy board which invests levies into a range of activities to ensure that sheep and beef cattle farming has an animal welfare reputation to be proud of. It undertakes research, provides technical policy advice and industry representation, as well as communicating these activities through its knowledge hub which demonstrates the industry commitment towards improving animal welfare.

The New Zealand livestock sectors also have a number of assurance schemes, similar to those in the UK. Two prominent schemes are the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Certified scheme which is focused on animal welfare, and the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme. Under the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme, 95% of beef, sheep, wool, and deer production in New Zealand is certified which is approximately 8,000 farm holdings. The scheme covers key areas on animal welfare and has requirements on stockmanship competence, regular monitoring, transport, housing, access to water, shelter, and food to provide a good quality of life, as well as minimising risk, injury, and distress. There is also a section that requires an implemented annual animal health plan created in consultation with a veterinarian. Within this section are limitations on tail docking, disbudding, dehorning, management when shearing, and medicine administration. Generally, it aligns with similar certification schemes in the UK, and shows a commitment from the New Zealand livestock industry to demonstrating performance and communicating this to consumers.

Although there are differences between the animal production methods in New Zealand and the UK it is evident that animal welfare is an important factor for both countries. This point has also been identified within the FTA and by the various animal welfare charities. There are plenty of points discussed that demonstrate why the New Zealand livestock industry is committed to animal welfare whilst also dedicated to continually improving the standards. Although our production methods are different, there is a clear demonstration that the New Zealand livestock industry is dedicated to improving animal welfare. Following agreements in the deal there will be opportunities to work together to improve welfare going forwards.