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Conflicting Standards: Imports Undermine Kiwi Values And Harm Farmers, Says New Trade Report

Report urges action on imports that undermine Kiwis’ support for higher animal welfare standards and also impact local farmers

A significant amount of imported animal products are produced using methods that are illegal under New Zealand's own animal welfare laws, according to a new report launched by Animal Policy International, the SPCA and the New Zealand Animal Law Association.

The report, titled "Closing the Welfare Gap: Why New Zealand Must Apply Its Animal Protection Standards to Imports” analyses, and reveals, for the first time, New Zealand's main animal product imports, such as battery cages for egg-laying hens, sow stalls for pregnant pigs, and mulesing of sheep - all of which have been banned in New Zealand due to animal welfare concerns. The report is timely as New Zealand is currently negotiating a trade deal with India, raising concerns about the potential increase in imports of low welfare animal products.

The report recommends that New Zealand extend its animal protection laws to cover all products placed on the New Zealand market, regardless of origin. It says not only is this supported by public expectations, it is permitted under World Trade Organisation rules to protect public morals.

Green Party MP Steve Abel, hosting the report launch event in Parliament, said Kiwis have serious concerns about the welfare of farmed animals, with over 80% of people believing imports should respect New Zealand law. “In the longer term it is unsustainable not to apply welfare standards to all products placed on the market. Otherwise, instead of improving the welfare of animals, as demanded by New Zealanders, the production is simply shifting to countries where there are little or no standards.”

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Key insights from the report show:

  • Over 90% of pork comes from countries that allow sow stalls and farrowing crates. New Zealand banned sow stalls in 2016, and the government has passed regulations phasing out farrowing crates by 2025.
  • All of the wool imported in 2022 came from Australia where mulesing remains common. In New Zealand performing mulesing can result in a criminal conviction.
  • Over 80% of liquid egg imports in 2022 came from China and Australia where egg-laying hens can be kept in battery cages. New Zealand’s ban came into force in 2023.

Over 70% of fish imported comes from Thailand, China, Australia, and Vietnam - all countries with no welfare standards around slaughter. New Zealand has a Code of Welfare that concerns aquatic animals at the time of slaughter.

New Zealand is importing animal products that undermine the standards that we are holding New Zealand farmers to and wanting them to aspire to. Extending animal welfare laws could level the playing field for New Zealand farmers, who are currently competing against cheaper imports produced to weaker standards, as seen with the New Zealand pork industry with already around 60% of pork imported. Future free trade agreements, such as with India, may further open New Zealand’s market for low-welfare imports.

SPCA Chief Scientific Officer Arnja Dale called the findings 'extremely concerning'. She said, “there’s a clear disconnect between our laws and imports. Animals overseas are being kept in conditions that New Zealanders have already clearly rejected, and yet products from those conditions continue to be sold to New Zealand consumers. The new government has an opportunity to close the welfare gap by extending animal welfare regulations to imports.”

“Allowing imports with lower welfare standards creates a race to the bottom that sells out New Zealand values and farmers,” says Animal Policy International Co-Executive Director Rainer Kravets. “Just as we regulate imports to safeguard our biosecurity, we should also do so for animal welfare, protecting the values of New Zealanders and upholding our reputation.”

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