End the cruel live export trade

Our work Animals in Aotearoa End the cruel live export trade

Ban on live export by sea announced!

On 14 April 2021, Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor announced a ban on the export of live animals by sea – with a ‘wind down’ period of up to two years.

On 16 July 2021, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) advised SAFE that the export of live animals by sea would be allowed to continue until 30 April 2023.

SAFE is pleased to see the Government taking animal welfare seriously, and for taking this world-leading step forward for animals.

But two years is too long. Tens of thousands of animals will continue to suffer during the wind down period.

While live export by sea is drawing to an end in Aotearoa, the ban will not apply to the millions of animals exported by air every year. SAFE will continue to campaign for a complete and permanent ban on the export of all live animals – whether by sea or air.

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Demand an immediate ban on live export

We’re pleased to see that our Government has listened to the tens of thousands of people in New Zealand and overseas who have spoken out about this issue. But we're gravely concerned for the animals who will continue to suffer during the two-year 'wind down' period. Demand an immediate ban now!

The cruel live export trade

New Zealanders take pride in valuing animal welfare. Our law recognises that animals are sentient – they have emotions, feelings, and experiences that matter to them. Because animals are individuals who can experience positive and negative emotions, we have standards for how they should be treated.

The live export trade sends millions of animals overseas each year, crammed into ships and planes. These animals leave behind the legal protections provided to them in New Zealand to face unknown horrors abroad.

In 2020, New Zealand exported almost 110,000 cows to China by sea. Most will spend their lives in concrete intensive farms, where they will be used for breeding and milk production.

But it’s not just cows who are suffering. Every year, New Zealand exports millions of other animals, including goats, sheep, pigs, deer, llamas, alpacas, horses, chicks, and bees.

Besides these land animals, New Zealand also exports aquatic animals such as eels and crayfish. These animals are not even counted as individuals, merely weighed in bulk.

Overseas, these animals may be farmed, transported, and slaughtered in ways that are not legal in New Zealand. Most countries to which New Zealand exports animals do not require stunning before slaughter. This means that New Zealand animals sent overseas may be killed while they are still conscious.

Most of the animals New Zealand exports are day-old chicks for meat or egg laying. When a chick hatches, they expect to see their mother. Instead, they are placed in a box with thousands of other baby birds and flown overseas to an intensive farm. In 2020, New Zealand exported over two million day-old chicks.

By allowing the live export trade to continue, the New Zealand Government is undermining our laws. Once animals are exported, we lose all control over how they are treated. We can’t impose our welfare standards on other countries, but we can stop exporting to them.

SAFE’s 2019 petition

In 2019, an ABC News exposé found hundreds of New Zealand and Australian cows suffering on Sri Lankan farms. In response, SAFE launched a petition to end live export. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our volunteers and staff, we collected over 30,000 signatures. We presented our petition to Parliament in August 2019 - on the 16th anniversary of the Cormo Express disaster.

The Cormo Express disaster occurred when Saudi Arabia rejected a shipment of over 57,000 New Zealand and Australian sheep on board the MV Cormo Express, on alleged disease grounds. After two months at sea, around 6,000 sheep died on board. The surviving sheep were gifted to Eritrea, where they were slaughtered in small makeshift abattoirs. This loss of life shocked New Zealand and the world, and led the then Labour Government to suspend the live export of sheep for slaughter. In 2007, a conditional prohibition on the export of cattle, sheep, deer and goats was introduced. This means that live animals cannot be exported for slaughter without the prior approval of the Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries.

There have been no livestock exports for slaughter since 2008. Until 2023, New Zealand still will still allow the export of animals for breeding purposes. These animals will spend their lives in intensive farms and are eventually slaughtered, often by methods that are not legal in New Zealand.

Live export ships

Last year, 20 live export ships left our shores, each crammed full with thousands of New Zealand cows. The perilous journey to China takes around 17 days.

Long-distance transport is highly stressful for animals and exposes them to risk of injury and disease. Some animals are shipped while pregnant.

On board live export ships, cows are kept in small pens and fed an unnatural diet of dry food. This prevents them from exhibiting their natural behaviour, which includes grazing on grass for up to eight hours a day. The movement of ships, especially when large waves slam into the side of the vessel, causes significant stress and may injure animals.

The high stocking densities, heat stress, unnatural diet, and rough seas all have a negative impact on animals, with some even dying on board.

Conditions overseas 

Live export crosses territorial boundaries. Our Government has no power to enforce New Zealand welfare standards once animals leave our shores.

In February 2019, the European Parliament voted on a series of changes representing a shift away from live export. The United Kingdom is currently considering a ban on live export for slaughter and fattening.

Most animals exported from New Zealand end up in countries with lower animal welfare standards. Animals exported from New Zealand are likely to spend their lives in intensive farms. They will eventually be slaughtered, likely using methods that are not legal in New Zealand.

The majority of New Zealand cows and day-old chicks are exported to China. It is impossible to verify what standard of care New Zealand animals receive in China due to transparency issues.

In 2019, an ABC News exposé found hundreds of New Zealand and Australian cows sick and dying on Sri Lankan farms. It was revealed that the lives of animals exported from New Zealand involve high levels of suffering.

SAFE is delighted to see the New Zealand Government taking animal welfare seriously by banning live export by sea. However, SAFE has serious concerns for the tens of thousands of animals who will suffer during the two-year phase-out period, as well as the animals who continue to be exported by air.

By continuing to allow live export, the New Zealand Government is putting animals’ lives and New Zealand’s reputation at risk. SAFE is calling on the New Zealand Government to do the right thing – to implement an immediate, complete and permanent ban on the live export of all animals. 

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As a charity, SAFE is reliant on the support of caring people like you to carry out our valuable work. Every gift goes towards providing education, undertaking research and campaigning for the benefit of all animals. SAFE is a registered charity in New Zealand (CC 40428). Contributions of $5 or more are tax-deductible.