Free-trade agreements should have animal welfare strings attached


Simone Clarke, Opinion, Stuff (New Zealand) 

Sep 08 2020


Clarke is executive director, World Animal Protection New Zealand


OPINION: New Zealand is currently negotiating a free-trade agreement with the European Union, which will include a chapter on animal welfare for the first time.


The inclusion of animal welfare in trade agreements is a welcome recognition that the trade in food products has implications for the lives of millions of animals.


However, it will only be of benefit to animals if both sides agree that when aligning standards, it is a race to the top, not the bottom.


Where European standards are higher, we should adopt them. And conversely, they should adopt our higher standards where that is the case. To do otherwise would potentially undermine animal welfare in both jurisdictions and see lower welfare food enter our market.


The New Zealand pork industry – and our pigs – are stuck in the middle when it comes to achieving this balance. On one hand we could have trade deals that flood this country with more cheap and nasty pork imports, while we may be denied export access to other countries where our own standards are deemed inadequate.


 About 60 per cent of pork sold in New Zealand is imported from countries that have even lower animal welfare standards than we do.


Almost half (42 per cent) comes from Europe, mainly Spain, but we also import large volumes of pork from the US and Canada. What’s more is New Zealand consumers, in the absence of clear labelling, don’t know what they’re eating.


Depending on the country, pigs can be confined in barren sow stalls and farrowing crates their whole lives. They are unable to fulfil their strong natural desire to make nests, properly nurse their young, to forage and root in the soil. Most pigs will never see the sky.


Around the world, male piglets are surgically castrated, 95 per cent without adequate pain relief. Highly intelligent, pigs should be provided with enrichment (things to do and play with to arrest boredom and stereotypical behaviours), but enforcement is limited. That means cheap meat for consumers – and lives of pain and misery for pigs.


 While not as dire as some overseas practices, New Zealand’s pig production standards also raise concerns, both domestically and internationally, as our codes of welfare don’t offer pigs a life worth living, in many people’s opinion.


The standards we have mean domestic pork is more expensive than lower welfare imports, but the standards may not be high enough for us to gain access to other lucrative export markets such as the UK, post-Brexit. In order to avoid our lower standards being an impediment to exporters, New Zealand’s trade negotiators should aim to achieve regulatory alignment at the highest relative standard in any negotiation we undertake.


Free trade deals with countries with lower animal welfare standards than ours could mean even more cheaper animal products, putting unfair pressure on local producers that have higher animal welfare standards. We should insist that welfare standards are harmonised at the higher level.


Moreover, New Zealand must share its expertise in areas where the EU does not have standards...