Animal Welfare Act

Our work Animals in Aotearoa Animal Welfare Act

New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act

In 2015 New Zealand updated our Animal Welfare Act 1999 with groundbreaking changes. For the first time in New Zealand, animals were legally recognised as sentient.

This was a result of many years of work by dedicated animal campaigners. These campaigners had already won many successful campaigns which had led to the Government banning live export for slaughter; committing to phasing out the use of sow stalls on pigs, the use of battery cages for hens; and banning the testing of cosmetics and party pills on animals.

The Act is based on the five freedoms of animal welfare. This should ensure that all people in charge of animals provide them with:

  1. Proper and sufficient food, and proper and sufficient water
  2. Adequate shelter
  3. The opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
  4. Physical handling in a manner which minimises the likelihood of unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress
  5. Protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, any significant injury or disease

The problem is that this revolutionary Act is undermined by loopholes and a complete lack of enforcement.

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This Act would be revolutionary if it wasn’t ignored by those who write the regulations. Instead, New Zealand is in a situation where loopholes have been created through the implementation of Codes of Welfare and Regulations. Many of these are drafted by farmers, for farmers, and are in direct contradiction to the principles of the Act. For example, rodeo causes animals distress and often leads to harm — this is in no way acceptable under the requirement of animals to be handled in a way that minimises stress and harm.

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee continues to use such loopholes to justify the use of many practices that the public finds abhorrent and which are technically illegal under the Act. SAFE continues to campaign against factory farming in Aotearoa and created history, becoming the first organisation to take the Government to court for animals.


Animals abused in rodeos will get their day in court. The New Zealand Animal Law Association and SAFE have teamed up again – this time we’re taking the Government to the High Court to seek justice for animals abused in rodeo. The New Zealand Animal Law Association and SAFE have filed a legal challenge with the High Court stating that rodeo events are in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.


Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 is divided between the SPCA and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). MPI is responsible for over 160 million farmed land animals, yet they only have 26 inspectors for the whole country. Less than 1% of complaints received by the SPCA and MPI ever lead to a prosecution — this is far lower than other areas of criminal law. Compared with the money made from the export of animal products ($28 billion in 2018), MPI spends less than 0.02% of that figure on the enforcement of animal welfare legislation.

FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

The Animal Welfare Act 1999, sets out how people should care for and act towards animals in New Zealand.

  • The Act establishes a duty of care for animals and sets out the obligations of animal owners or people in charge of animals.
  • 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 considered a crime under the Act.

Source: NZ Legislation – Animal Welfare Act 1999

The main purpose of the Animal Welfare Act is to make sure that animals are treated well. This means that people who own or take care of animals have to make sure the animals have enough food and water, a place to live, and opportunities to do things that are natural for them. They also have to make sure the animals are healthy and not in pain.

Source: Ministry of Primary Industries – Animal Welfare Legislation

The 5 freedoms of animal welfare in NZ are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst – Animals should have sufficient food and water.
  • Freedom from being uncomfortable – Animals should have a place to live and adequate shelter.
  • Freedom to behave naturally – Animals should have the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour.
  • Freedom from fear and distress – This means that animals should not be hurt or upset when they are being handled.
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease – Animals should be free from pain, injury, and disease. They should also be protected from any further harm and given a quick diagnosis if they do become injured or sick.

These are the five domains of animal welfare in NZ

  1. Nutrition – Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Environment – Freedom from discomfort
  3. Health – Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Behaviour – Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Mental State – Freedom from fear and distress

If a person violates the Animal Welfare Act in NZ, they can be fined up to $50,000 or sentenced to jail time up to 12 months (or both). In the case where a business corporation violates the AWC, the body corporate can be fined up to $250,000. (source)

If you know of or suspect a case of animal cruelty, you can report it to SAFE or call this toll-free number 0800 EXPOSE (0800 397 673).

The Animal Welfare Act is enforced by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA aka SPCA). Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, SPCA inspectors have the authority to investigate any suspected breaches of the Act and have the power to issue warnings or infringement notices, as well as prosecute offenders in court.

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