New Zealand bans live animal exports from April 2023

New Zealand will ban live animal exports from next April, two years after storms sank a livestock ship, killing 41 crew members and 6,000 cattle.

The death of two New Zealanders among the crew of the Gulf Livestock 1, which sank in a September 2020 typhoon, helped galvanise the movement to ban exports of live sheep and cattle.

The animal welfare amendment bill was signed into law on Thursday, with the government saying it would protect New Zealand’s reputation as consumers become more ethically conscious. “It protects the reputation of not just our farmers now, but the farmers of the future,” the agriculture minister, Damien O’Connor, said.

Live exports have long been controversial in Australia and New Zealand, and subject to long-term campaigns by animal rights groups. When they go wrong, they often result in thousands of animals drowning.

Earlier this year, more than 15,000 sheep drowned after a live export ship sank in Sudan, and in 2020 a capsize killed 14,000 sheep. In 2021, 3,000 cattle were stranded at sea for three months, leaving many dead, dying, starving or extremely dehydrated.

Because New Zealand is so remote, even a best-case-scenario journey is often arduous for animals.

“New Zealand’s remoteness means animals are at sea for extended periods, heightening their susceptibility to heat stress and other welfare-associated risks,” O’Connor said.

“Despite any regulatory measures we could put in place, the voyage times and the journey through the tropics to the northern hemisphere markets will always impose challenges.”

All of the country’s exports of livestock by sea will stop on 30 April 2023. New Zealand exported 134,722 cattle last year, and live exports represented about 0.6% of primary sector exports. New Zealand only exports animals for breeding, not slaughter.

The move has been welcomed by the Green party and animal rights activists. “This could not have come soon enough,” said the Greens animal welfare spokesperson, Chlöe Swarbrick. “Animals have been suffering in live export for years.”

The opposition National party opposed the bill, saying it was a “disproportionate” and “ideological” response to the “the tragic sinking of the stock ship Gulf Livestock 1”.

They argue that the move to end live exports could reduce gross domestic product by up to $472m.

In 2020, Britain announced plans to ban the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening from England and Wales, but that plan has not yet been brought into force.

In Australia, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, recently reaffirmed his government’s commitment to ending the trade, but said it would not be phased out before 2025.