The Government is considering a ban on live cattle exports, an income stream worth nearly $30 million last year, with Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor saying the practice may be a risk to New Zealand's brand.
O'Connor said today a conditional ban on the live export of cattle was one of several options being considered as part of a review of the trade in live animals.
"The continued export of cattle may be a risk to New Zealand's brand. The time has come to rethink this area and consider whether it's something that fits within our values as a country.
"When animals leave New Zealand we set conditions that are considered world-class by veterinarians. But there have been incidents over the last few years that highlight the fact that once animals leave New Zealand we have very limited ability to ensure their wellbeing when they reach their destination.
"That's something that's not acceptable to me and I know it's not acceptable to a large number of New Zealanders.
O'Connor said consumers increasingly cared about where their food came from, and animal welfare standards were a growing focus of consumers around the world.
"We need to ensure we have the highest level of animal welfare standards. Our economic wellbeing depends on it.
O'Connor said that a few months ago he directed Ministry for Primary Industry officials to review all possible options.
Yesterday he discussed it with Cabinet colleagues and said he would soon take an options paper to them for cross-party consultation. The matter would then go to the Cabinet Economic Development Committee for consideration in late July.
"The options presented in the review will range from tightening up the existing standards to absolute or conditional prohibition on some or all parts of this trade.
"It's a complex area and there are a number of factors Cabinet needs to consider, including public expectation, international trade commitments and the impacts on rural New Zealand. Live exports are a source of income to rural communities, almost $30 million in cattle exports alone last year - but has been dropping in recent years.
"Now is the time for us to demonstrate New Zealand's leadership and commitment to upholding the highest standards of animal welfare".