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MAF “animal welfare” is a joke

Written By: - Date published: 6:06 pm, September 30th, 2009 - 24 comments
Categories: animal welfare, farming - Tags:

The recent news that NZ’s largest dairy farmer allowed calves to dehydrate and starve to death is appalling, but there are much larger issues here than this just being one rogue farm.

The fact is, MAF animal welfare is a joke. They have only five animal welfare inspectors covering the entire country, so it’s really no surprise that they don’t have the resources to prosecute any but the most severe cases. Getting MAF to even inspect a farm is often impossible.

Minister of Agriculture David Carter is well aware of the problems. He spent considerable effort in the last parliamentary term rightly digging into the previous Minister over the issue.

31st July last year:

Does the Minister think it acceptable that there are only five Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry animal welfare investigators across New Zealand dealing with 50 million head of livestock, which is one officer for every 10 million animals; if so, why?

Does the Minister agree with the comment of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry investigations manager, Greg Reid, that animal welfare resources in New Zealand are ‘chaotic’ and ‘running from bushfire to bushfire’; if so, what is the Minister going to do to fix that problem?

David Carter is now the Minister responsible, and perhaps he should be asking himself his own questions – what is he willing to do about it?

As an aside, while this Crafar farms story is clearly unusual and extreme (it can’t be profitable to starve and dehydrate your herd), there are other major animal welfare issues widespread in dairy farming. For example, here’s some pictures friends of mine took in the Waikato last year. It is standard practice for calves to have their horns removed with bolt cutters and no anesthetic.

24 comments on “MAF “animal welfare” is a joke ”

  1. George D 1

    What really annoys me is that the Animal Welfare Act is actually one of the best in the world (not that that is saying much, but it’s pretty decent). Just that MAF and the SPCA refuse to apply it. And since they’re the only people delegated to use the Act, it’s a worthless piece of paper.

    When Labour replace Anderton with someone decent (no, not that idiot), things will improve. Until then, they won’t.

    • Rex Widerstrom 1.1

      What George said. Though to be fair to the SPCA they too are under-resourced and they don’t have a Minister who can simply increase their budget. In my experience they generally do the best they can, as do the MAF people on the ground. I wouldn’t have their job for quids, because it’d be a matter of days before I resorted to “cleaning up the mess” by subjecting the owners to the same treatment they meted out to their animals.

      The bottom line is resourcing. With MAF it;s fairly straightforward, with the SPCA less so. But one idea I’ve heard mooted is a levy on local authorities paid to their local SPCA, who do much of the work that would otherwise be done by rangers and handle a much broader range of animals. Councils are only able to devote so little resourcing to animal control because the local SPCA — usually run by overwhelmed volunteers — is there to take up the slack.

  2. George D 2

    The background story, from the man who took the Crafar footage.

    Monday midday I could not get through to maf, I left a message begging them to do something, or I would phone a tv station. I was phoned back and MAF told me they would not take pictures or take evidence. They would go there and clean up the mess. They would not take a prosecution. The inspector told me he had phoned the supervisor of this farm to get out there and fix the problems.


  3. ben 3

    This is a good post. Some nice research here. Good stuff Rocky.

  4. big bruv 4

    Great post Rocky, on the topic of animal welfare (and I suspect only this topic) you and I are of the same mind.

    Keep the pressure on Carter, on this you will always have my full support.

  5. This is what happens when you gut the public service. There are a thousand stories like this in the areas of education, health, overseas aid or animal welfare. There are many areas where the community’s interests are ignored for the sake of a tax cut for the rich.

    Name and shame is the way to go. Keep it up!

  6. Tim Ellis 6

    Nice post rocky. Unlike the previous post from Marty you’ve hit the nail on the head. Poor animal welfare in dairy should be the responsibility of MAF and Fonterra as well as the farmers. MAF appears to have been under-resourced for some time.

    Micky, nice how you try to blame the gutting of the public service, and therefore these animal welfare incidents, on the National Party. Labour doubled public service spending between 1999 and 2008. Apparently animal welfare wasn’t a priority for the Labour Party, because they didn’t increase animal welfare resources at the same time they were increasing back office functions.

    • “Apparently animal welfare wasn’t a priority for the Labour Party”

      TE you should try engaging in a civilised debate about what happened rather than trot out CT attack lines.

      Labour did the following:

      1. Significantly improved the pay for nurses and stopped them from flooding overseas.
      2. Poured huge resources into the education sector, so that things like lower teacher pupil ratios could be achieved.
      3. Established the entitlement to free pre school education.
      4. Set up the Cullen fund to start to address superannuation for the baby boomers.
      5. Set up Kiwisaver to persuade baby boomers to start saving money.
      6. Increased the public service numbers and their pay.

      So how about you quote some numbers to substantiate your claim. And at the same time why don’t you persuade us that National wants to improve resources for the public service, rather than gut it.

      • rocky 6.1.1

        Ah but you see mickysavage, Tim Ellis is correct. Animal Welfare most certainly was not a priority for the last Labour Government. Given that animal welfare is what the post is about, your comments about gutting the public service really didn’t fit the context.

        Though if you read that link to question time in July last year, Jim Anderton’s response as the Minister then was interesting. He attacked David Carter for promoting tax cuts yet still thinking they would be able to fund everything. While Jim Anderton was really crap on animal welfare, it looks as though he may have had a point in suggesting National wouldn’t do any better.

        Tim Ellis only made comments re animal welfare policy, not the general gutting of the public service, so accusing him of not engaging in civilised debate and trotting out CT attack lines was pretty unfair (though I do realise that the back office mention is a CT line).

        May I suggest you stop trying to defend the indefensible? I really appreciate that there seems to be a lot of support from the right wing commenters on animal welfare stuff (except for idiots like Burt).

        • BLiP

          W T F !!

          Tim Ellis is correct

          Oh, hang on – lets see . . say 10 comments a day for the last six months equals about 1900 – yeah, I suppose its possible there might be one. Lucky you.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 6.2

      I agree with Tim. Labour ignored major animal welfare issues and must share some responsibility for the current situation. Interesting to see how the current Minister handles this one- hopefully he won’t just agree with everything FF says.

  7. burt 7

    So what you are telling me is that a monopoly state provider appears to be expensive but seems to deliver piss all service. Shit, who would have predicted that!

    • rocky 7.1

      Actually the animal welfare unit in MAF costs very little, hence why the piss poor service. Really nothing to do with it being state/monopoly. Besides, the service is for the public good, and can’t be profitable, so how else would you do it? The SPCA doesn’t want government funding because they want to retain their independence.

      • George D 7.1.1

        Since the SPCA can launch prosecutions, it isn’t strictly a monopoly either. The point does have some merit though – if the act was amended to allow a broader interpretation of delegated agents (s14), then we’d probably see an improvement.

        Still, this is the state’s job, and they’re the ones who should get their arse into gear and do their job.

  8. Rocky,

    Great research. A fascinating series of questions and answers. This sheds new light on this story and will increase pressure on Carter (!) to do something substantial.

    Bernard Hickey

  9. Rob 9

    It shocks me quite frankly that we only have 5, there is a lot of very large farms in New Zealand. People should not be able to leave their animals to starve, even if they aren’t people they still feel pain. If they didn’t have time to increase this under their last government I hope Labour will do it next time they are elected. I am seeing small hope of something farmers will likely protest against being done by National though.

  10. Red Rosa 10

    More yet on this one


    There is presumably an Opposition agriculture spokesperson? Possibly he or she might have a word or two to say on this? Biggest farming issue for months.

    InterestNZ thinks receivership, with MAF & Fonterra involvement, is now on the cards.


    • George D 10.1

      The “opposition” spokesperson is Anderton. But he doesn’t oppose any of this – he and Sutton were responsible for cementing the current order (the AWA was passed in mid-1999), and were/are staunch defenders of it.

      Sue Kedgley is the Greens spokesperson of course, but she’s largely treated as a clanging gong (her hostile attitude to science reduces her credibility, unfortunately).

      Even the organisations that could make a difference by using this example, such as SAFE, haven’t really utilised it like they could. That’s a disappointment.

  11. grumpy 11

    Great post Rocky – never thought I’d say that.

    As a farmer, I see this a lot. Dairying is NOT “farming”, levels of stockmanship are appalling. MAF is overawed by Fonterra and the SPCA are useful idiots.

    In this case and in others, it is fellow farmers who take action. In the North Canterbury case of Slade Farm, it was local farmers who gave them the ultimatum to sell up and leave the district.

  12. grumpy 12

    You will probably find that the Crafar calves were induced. This is (was) standard dairy practice to ensure all calves are born at the same time so as to maximise production. Most induced calves are born dead and the others killed.
    The practice was recently outlawed but still continues unabated.

  13. We can see that you have the same problem in NZ as we do in the UK in that you have a decent animal welfare act, designed to protect, but those responsible for enforcing it are not doing their job properly.

    In the UK, the ministry with overall responsibility is DEFRA (used to be MAFF), but they claim insufficient budget to implement some of the tranches of the act which are still outstanding – leaving loopholes in the legislation and an insufficient body of inspectors and enforcers to cover the workload.
    We have a variety of weak and dodgy legislation affecting our relationship and duties towards animals in the UK and our 2006 act was meant to bring all these bits of ‘random’ legislation together to make it all work.
    Now, 2.5 years later it’s still a bit of a mess.

    In the UK the 2006 act is meant to be directly enforced by local authorities – councils who employ Animal licencing and inspection officers for enforcement of farm and companion animal issues and dog wardens and environmental health staff for aspects of domestic animal enfocement issues.
    One problem we have is that it is not mandatory for our councils to embrace and enforce the act, and many don’t. In the areas where the act is not enforced by a council, there is no official body to implement it.

    This means it tends to fall down to our charities – particularly the RSPCA, to prosecute privately.

    It seems that this is common the world over. In spite of our apparent advancements in the protection of animals, politicians, industry and those who depend on the exploitation of animals for profit all seem to conspire to render new legislation imperfect, inapproriate and unenforceable.

    To be fair, some councils are enforcing the act and bringing prosecutions, but we are a long way from having anything like a joined up, working system that is effective in protecting animals against the worst aspects of human behaviour.

    Too many of our laws are put in place by politicians as placebo’s. Vote winners giving people what they want to hear but falling short of working and giving people what they want to happen.
    This is the way it will be until enough people actually care enough to make them change and the only way to do that is to make the polititians fear they may lose their position and power unless they do what the electorate want them to do.

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