Sasha Borissenko: Report finds gaps in Animal Welfare Act

OPINION

“If a society wants to eat animals there’s a responsibility that comes with it,” New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) president Saar Cohen-Ronen said at last week’s launch of a report into the gap between the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and its delegated legislation.

For context, in 2016 New Zealanders owned about 4.6 million pets. In contrast, the country annually farms about 6.35 million dairy cattle, 3.92 million beef cattle, 125 million meat chickens, 62,248 pigs, 3.94 million layer hens, 27.4 million sheep and about 116 thousand tonnes of seafood.

Agriculture accounts for 12 per cent of New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product. It produces $36 billion a year in exports, and New Zealand accounts for around a third of the world’s international dairy trade.

For further context, the New Zealand Animal Law Association is a coalition of 626 lawyers, law students, and graduates who work to improve the welfare and lives of animals through the legal system. Its logo is a thing of beauty, where you will recognise a puppy with ears that also doubles as the scales of justice. Need I say more.

Case against farrowing crates

The report was launched off the back of last year’s case where the NZLA brought judicial proceedings against the Crown regarding farrowing crates. The NZLA aimed to free sows from cages, so they could have the freedom to live more natural lives as opposed to treating them as simply units of production.

The High Court ruled that the Minister of Agriculture and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee acted illegally when they failed to phase out the farming practice of farrowing crates for sows. The court found that the regulations on farrowing crates to be inconsistent with the Animal Welfare Act.

At the time, Saar Cohen-Ronen said “the rule of law has prevailed. The judgment raises serious concerns about [the Advisory Committee] conduct”.

“At best, they lacked proper understanding of their legal duties and were let down by [Ministry for Primary Industries’] legal advisers. At worst, [the Advisory Committee] acted in bad faith by letting economic factors and industry pressure outweigh their duty as scientists and independent advisors.”

Report findings

Back to the report. Ultimately it was found that the delegated legislation has failed to ensure that the “physical, health and behavioural needs” of animals are met, as required by section 10 of the Animal Welfare Act.

In the context of dairy cattle, the report found the Code of Welfare (Dairy Cattle) 2019 fell short in relation to providing adequate shelter in both summer and winter conditions, practices associated with winter-grazing, provisions on the use of electric prodders and preventing health issues, and the ability of untrained operators to conduct pregnancy examinations, for example.

For pigs, issues around farrowing crates and still exist where intensive confinement mean sows are incapable of expressing their behavioural needs. There is also a lack of adequate limitations on the use of electric prodders and no limitation on the use of goads on the ears and nose.

The research also found that the continued use of colony cages for layer hens, which severely restricts their ability to express their behaviour needs, and that the selective breeding of meat chickens for rapid growth rates leads to health issues such as lameness and heart problems.

The research also highlighted the lack of a code of welfare for farmed fish.

Where to from here?

The report made a number of recommendations, including: a comprehensive review of the codes of welfare; a review of the processes by which the codes and regulations were established by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee; for a code of welfare for farmed fish be established; for the Act and Code of Welfare (Slaughter) 2018 be revised to prevent the inhumane killing of farmed finfish and fish caught in the wild; independent oversight of the Welfare Advisory Committee; an increase in funding for development of animal welfare law and policy; a public or government inquiry; the use of Government or industry-led subsidies to financially support farmers in implementing higher standards of animal welfare; and continued collaboration among industry, the Welfare Advisory Committee, and animal advocacy organisations.

Is there the political will? Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick said for the NZALA to have successfully taken a case to court meant that “effectively we are not doing our job. There should be a call to action to ensure at the very least that the law is applied [as it was intended]”.

Labour MP Barbara Kuriger said as a farmer herself “farming is a big part of our culture, our heritage, and our lifestyle, so [animal welfare] is something we need to be getting right”.

“I don’t want to disrespect our regulators, [or those drafting our regulations], but you send things away to them and the result might be very confusing, and you get varying results.

“From what I’ve seen it’s not the law that’s the problem, it’s everything around it.”

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