It's a controversial practice many have labelled animal cruelty but now the Government's about to end the live animal export trade.
It comes amid a months-long investigation by TVNZ’s Sunday programme into the conditions endured by cattle at sea.
“It's a trade whose time has come, it's a trade we should have got out of years ago,” vet and former head of Animal Welfare for MPI Dr John Hellstrom says.
The industry was thrust into the spotlight after the Gulf Livestock capsized last September in the East China Sea after leaving Napier.
Forty-one crew, including two New Zealanders on board died, alongside nearly 6000 cattle.
Following that the Government temporarily banned exports of live cattle, but allowed them to resume late last year with promises of improvements to the process.
Now they've changed their minds again - with plans to scrap the trade completely.
Exporter Dave Hayman has been sending live cattle overseas for 20 years and has been lobbying intensively to continue.
“Export gives the animals the opportunity to live a full productive life and, you know, in a very well-cared for environment,” Hayman says.
He says it fulfils a valuable role for the agriculture industry.
“Farmers do have surplus animals to sell and if we don’t export them, then the likelihood is that those animals will be culled at a very young age. It would be devastating to our farmers not to have that option.”
But opponents say - there are big question marks over the welfare of these animals during the journey by sea - and once they arrive in China.
“We take animals from an environment in New Zealand where they have a reasonably good life and send them to places where they have a pretty lousy life and in the process we subject them to a journey which gets increasingly stressful from a welfare point of view,” Dr Hellstrom says.
Last year nearly 110,000 cattle were exported from New Zealand to China. That's a nearly threefold increase from the year before.
In 2019, the value of livestock exports was $54 million.
That's just zero-point one per cent of the total value of New Zealand's primary product exports.
1 NEWS/Sunday understands the Government will move to ban the practice this week, but with a wind down period that could last two years. It's also believed the Government delivered a letter to the Chinese Embassy on March 31 signalling the move will be taking place.
Primary Industries Minister Damien O’Connor wouldn't comment today.