SPCA New Zealand
Animal Welfare Act

Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 (The Act) sets out how people should take care of and act towards animals, and is jointly enforced by SPCA, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Police.

The Act is a clear statement to New Zealanders – and to the rest of the world – that animals are sentient and that in New Zealand they have a right to proper and sufficient care.

What’s in the Animal Welfare Act

The Act establishes a duty upon the owners or persons in charge of animals to care for those animals properly.

It sets out the obligations of animal owners or people in charge of animals. They have to meet an animal’s physical, health and behavioural needs, and must alleviate pain or distress.

The Act defines ‘physical, health, and behavioural needs’ as:

  • proper and sufficient food
  • proper and sufficient 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 a crime, and this is also defined in the Act.

The Act contains provisions to prevent ill treatment and inadequate care of animals. It also regulates the use of traps and devices that have the potential to cause pain or distress to animals.

Animal welfare regulations (introduced in July 2016)

Changes to the Act gave us the ability to make regulations we can enforce.

The first Regulations under the Act were released in July 2016. More Regulations are in development.

Codes of Welfare

The Animal Welfare Act does not provide detailed requirements – instead, these are contained in regulations and Codes of Welfare. Codes are issued under the Act and contain minimum standards and recommended best practice.

Codes are issued by the Minister for Primary Industries and have important roles in helping to set best practices and high standards of animal care.

The Codes outline minimum standards for care and handling of animals. These standards have legal effect in two ways:

  • Our Inspectors can use evidence of someone failing to meet a minimum standard to support a prosecution for an offence under the Act
  • A person who is charged with an offence against the Act can defend themselves by showing that they have met or exceeded minimum standards

Also included in the Codes are recommended best practices. These encourage everyone to not just achieve minimum standards as required by the law, but to aim to improve the welfare of their animals by adopting best practice.

What Codes are available?

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has put together 16 Codes of Welfare that include minimum standards, guidance information and recommended best practices for animal welfare.

These Codes cover animals from dogs to dairy cattle, and situations such as animal rodeos and painful husbandry procedures. You can find the full list (with amendments) on the Ministry for Primary Industries website.

What if you suspect a breach of the Act or a Code of Welfare?

If you believe the Animal Welfare Act 1999 or a minimum standard of care in any of these Codes of Welfare is being breached by a person or an organisation and you would like to make a report, please call your local SPCA Centre or the Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 00 83 33.

Welfare certificate needed to export live animals

The Act makes it an offence to export a live animal without an animal welfare export certificate (although there are some exemptions for low-risk situations, like short flights). This ensures that any animal welfare risks faced by the animals during their travel are minimised.

An order made under the Customs and Excise Act 1996 prohibits the export of live animals for slaughter, unless the risks to New Zealand’s trade reputation can be adequately managed.

Animals in research, testing and teaching

The Act sets out an ethical framework for the use of animals in research, testing, and teaching. Before a project using animals can take place, it must be approved by an animal ethics committee, which is also responsible for monitoring the project. Every project that uses animals must demonstrate that the benefits of the research (for example, to the maintenance of human health or the production and productivity of animals) are not outweighed by the likely harm to the animals being used for research.

However, for all of the above, the Animal Welfare Act does not provide detailed requirements on how to meet these needs – instead, these requirements are covered in Animal Welfare Regulations and Codes of Welfare.

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