The Government is considering banning the trade in live cattle exports, worth $30 million last year.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says a conditional ban on the live export of cattle is 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," O'Connor said.
"That's something that's not acceptable to me and I know it's not acceptable to a large number of New Zealanders.
"Consumers increasingly care about where their food comes from, animal welfare standards are 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.
Live cattle exports have been dropping from 40,506 cattle with a value of $84.3 million in 2016 to 17,319 cattle worth $30.1m in 2018.
Ministry for Primary Industries data shows only one large consignment of sheep by sea has been exported since 2008, a shipment of 45,112 sheep to Mexico in 2015. The mortality rate was 0.42 per cent, with 191 sheep deaths.
In 2018, 14,459 cattle were exported, all to China, with an average mortality rate of 0.06 per cent. The average mortality rate for consignments of cattle greater than 20 animals exported by sea between 2008 and 2015 was 0.12 per cent, MPI figures showed.
O'Connor said he had asked MPI officials to review all possible options.
After discussing this with Cabinet colleagues he will now take an options paper for cross-party consultation. The matter will 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
"Now is the time for us to demonstrate New Zealand's leadership and commitment to upholding the highest standards of animal welfare," O'Connor said.
Animal rights group Safe will hold a rally in Wellington on Friday calling for an immediate halt of the live export of dairy cattle for breeding purposes.
Green Party animal welfare spokesman Gareth Hughes said New Zealand's live animal export laws needed updating to protect animal welfare and the country's agricultural brand.
"New Zealand exports tens of thousands of live animals for breeding purposes every year and these animals can face appalling treatment when they arrive in the importing country.
"The example of hundreds of cattle dying in Sri Lanka after being exported from New Zealand was a clear animal welfare failing and blot on our agricultural reputation," Hughes said.
"The EU has banned all live animal exports to countries with lower animal welfare standards and it is time New Zealand follows suit."
"The Green Party has called for the end live animal exports and will be pushing for the strongest possible outcome in this review," Hughes said.