New Zealand is the world’s leading producer of deer antler velvet. Red deer were first introduced to New Zealand by way of Europe in the 1800’s for game hunting. Deer farming in New Zealand started in the 1960s. Today, there are more than 1.7 million deer on New Zealand farms.
The deer farming industry is highly regulated in New Zealand. This serves to protect deer, deer farmers and consumers alike. With over 500 tons produced annually, New Zealand’s economy is affected considerably by the health of their deer farming industry, which is why such attention is focused on the techniques and standards of deer care. Regulations on how the deer are housed, what they are fed, and how they are treated before, during and after deer antler removal are in place and strictly enforced.
In New Zealand, the removal of deer antler velvet, known as velveting, is done with local anesthesia to prevent pain and harm to the deer. The Animal Welfare Act 1999, which Act classifies deer velvet removal as a ‘controlled surgical procedure’, and it is a criminal offense to perform the procedure without veterinary supervision and anesthesia under the Animal Welfare Act 1999. This is one of the main differences between New Zealand and other countries who produce deer antler velvet. Other countries simply do not have proper laws in place to ensure humane handling of deer.
Animal welfare standards are constantly being assessed in New Zealand and are refined based on new knowledge on the optimal way of raising deer. Maintaining and improving standards of welfare is important not only to the animals but also farmers and consumers, because healthy, well treated deer make for quality, consistent products.
Although North America has a deer antler velvet industry, most consumers do not opt for the locally made products for the reasons noted above. Another scary issue that arises with deer antler velvet made domestically is the possible presence of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a contagious neurological disorder. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that humans should avoid consuming deer that appear sick with CWD. The United States, Canada and Europe have all found deer infected with CWD in their livestock. However, there has never been a single incident of infection in New Zealand.