The clock is ticking on the live animal exports, with the government announcing a two-year phase out period.
It is scrapping the industry, it says, to uphold New Zealand's reputation for high standards of animal welfare.
Last year more than 100,000 breeding cattle valued at $255 million were shipped to China by sea.
A temporary ban was put on live exports after the Gulf Livestock One ship sank in a tornado on route to China with 43 crew onboard, including two New Zealanders and 6,000 cattle.
"There's a growing focus from consumers around the world on protein, animal welfare is high on the list of people in the EU and the UK in particular," Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said.
"Words, particularly bad words, travel around the world very quickly, and we have to be not in that firing line, we have to be able to uphold the highest standards of animal welfare, be those animals in New Zealand or be they on transport from our country, so that's why we're making the call."
"We have to be able to assure our consumers, and most of them have choices, they are in high value markets around the world, that when they eat our animal protein, milk or meat, that we produced it in the most ethical way.
"That's caring for the animals in every part of our production system, and we can't just wipe our hands of that responsibility just because we're putting them on a boat."
There are however ongoing practices in New Zealand that have been criticised for being harmful to animals, including the majority of egg-laying chickens in battery or colony cages, pigs in crates, and the continuation of rodeos.
O'Connor said government takes advice from the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee on those issues.
"We're making progress on chickens and on pigs. Rodeos – there's been changes in the way they run them. All of these areas are being scrutinised.
"Sometimes there are incidents but most of the protocols around that we can see, we can scrutinise and we can change. We can't do that if it's on a boat.
"We take advice from independent experts. It's not good just for politicians to rush in. We've done that with this issue as well – seeking the best advice through two reviews."
He said the advice on which the decision was made will be made available.