Meat & Livestock News

Revival of Live Cattle Exports in New Zealand with Enhanced Welfare Standards

Domestic animals eating hay at cattle farm.

In a significant policy shift, New Zealand is set to resume live cattle exports, backed by Federated Farmers (Feds) and Live Export NZ (LENZ). This decision aligns with the commitments made by the governing coalition partners – National, ACT, and NZ First – during their election campaigns. They pledged to overturn the previous ban on live exports while implementing stringent animal welfare standards.

Richard McIntyre, Feds dairy chair, expressed satisfaction with the government’s decision to continue its campaign promise.

He highlighted the importance of live exports as a substantial income source for farmers, especially during challenging domestic market conditions and environmental issues like droughts. In recent years, live exports have contributed significantly to New Zealand’s economy, with earnings ranging from $300-$400 million annually, spiking to $524 million last year in anticipation of the ban.

The Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) presented to the previous government underscored the role of livestock exports in financially supporting individual farmers by diversifying their income streams. It noted that selling export cattle as yearlings could offer farmers an earlier return on investment. Over the past decade, approximately 5000 farmers across New Zealand have supplied breeding cattle for export.

McIntyre also welcomed the introduction of stronger welfare standards, emphasising that New Zealand farmers uphold high animal welfare standards domestically and expect the same for exported animals. 

This move is crucial not only for maintaining New Zealand’s international reputation but also for its standing within local communities. He clarified that New Zealand’s live cattle exports are solely for breeding purposes, differentiating them from exports for religious slaughter, which New Zealand does not engage in.

Mark Willis, chair of LENZ, described the proposed ‘Gold Standard’ animal welfare criteria, including comprehensive post-arrival care and continuous monitoring in the destination countries, as unparalleled internationally. He and McIntyre both expressed concerns that during New Zealand’s ban, other countries with lower animal welfare standards might have filled the market gap.

Comparative figures from 2019 show that New Zealand’s live cattle exports were significantly lower than other major exporters. For instance, Australia exported 1.77 million cattle, the EU over a million, Brazil 535,289, Canada 746,300, and Mexico 205,230.

Willis also advocated for an export licensing system, noting the previous lack of regulatory mechanisms to impose conditions on exporters or to suspend or revoke licence. He anticipates that the necessary legislation could be presented to Parliament by April, with the export trade potentially restarting by August.

Additionally, Willis addressed a common misconception regarding the export of New Zealand’s best cattle genetics. He explained that farmers typically retain their top genetics, selling only surplus stock.

The trade-in of elite genetics primarily occurs through semen imports from around the world, ensuring the continuous improvement of domestic livestock. This practice, according to Willis, makes the idea that live cattle exports would hinder New Zealand’s ability to sell its products highly unlikely.