Dairy prosecutions not enough

Following a 2015 exposé into cruelty in the NZ dairy industry, the Ministry for Primary Industries has announced further charges will be laid, following the previous sentencing of a worker.

The announcement comes after the investigation by SAFE and Farmwatch exposed workers throwing calves onto trucks, illegal use of a hip clamp and a slaughterhouse operative kicking and beating calves. Filmed using hidden cameras, it caused uproar in New Zealand and overseas. A second investigation was carried out in 2016. The charges only relate to the 2015 investigation.

The slaughterhouse worker had already been charged and sentenced to two years imprisonment for bobby calf offences. Now MPI says an Auckland man has been charged with ill-treatment of calves and is due to appear in court in February 2017; the slaughterhouse owners are also being prosecuted and a farmer has charges laid against him illegal for use of a hip clamp. Another farmer has also been charged with ill-treatment of a dairy cow.

Although SAFE is pleased to see MPI taking animal welfare cruelty cases seriously, there are still several issues:

  • Few workers were prosecuted. Farmwatch documented at least 10 separate incidents of workers throwing calves into the back of trucks, but MPI has reportedly given warnings or “education” to most of those caught roughly handling animals. While education and training are very important, it is not clear whether MPI will follow up to ensure best practice is implemented on an ongoing basis.
  • It should not be up to non-profits and volunteers to expose issues of animal cruelty. Without Farmwatch filming, these kinds of incidents go completely unnoticed, and unpunished. SAFE is concerned that there are likely many more animals suffering.
  • Investigations take far too long to proceed. The latest announcement comes nearly sixteen months after footage was handed to MPI.
  • MPI is woefully underfunded by the Government with far too few inspectors (around twelve) to cover the geographically challenging locations of many of NZ’s farms. There should be more funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.
  • Prosecuting only goes so far and acts as a minimal deterrent. More time, effort and funds need to be put into preventing cruelty to vulnerable animals in the first place.
  • There is a clear conflict of interest when the same ministry is tasked with both promoting the interests of industry and at the same time, animal welfare. This is why SAFE continues to call for a separate, independent animal welfare body.

“Even when workers were aware of the controversy surrounding the treatment of bobby calves in 2015, Farmwatch was still able to find new cruelty incidents in 2016.” Says Head of Campaigns Mandy Carter. “It is clear that real change is needed in MPI, and the treatment of dairy cows and calves, to even come close to addressing these serious animal welfare issues.”

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23 December 2016