In a year when New Zealand factory farming practices for pigs (and earlier for chickens) have been widely exposed and shocked the country, our dairy industry is looking at adopting similar practices for dairy cows. In a year when climate change has been on the world agenda as never before, our dairy industry is attempting massive expansion despite already contributing more than 20% of this country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
Consent applications have been lodged with Environment Canterbury to allow up to 18,000 cows to be housed in cow stalls (the industry is using the much more palatable term – cubicle stables). If successful, 18,000 more cows will be imprisoned in these stalls for 24 hours per day for 8 months of the year, and 12 hours per day for the remaining 4 months.
Prime Minister John Key was questioned about the consent applications at his post-cabinet press conference last Monday and said he had no concerns about the farms damaging the international brand because “anyone driving around New Zealand can see that most farming is done on a pastoral basis”. By Tuesday Key seemed to have worked out that cow stalls aren’t acceptable in the eyes of most voters, and changed his line to: “I think the image implications for New Zealand are not good”.
Minister of Agriculture David Carter has said that he doesn’t see any fundamental animal welfare issues with cow stalls, as long as acceptable standards are adhered to. I guess we already know what Carter considers to be acceptable standards, as he still hasn’t taken any action to stop sow stalls, which he lied about knowing anything about back in May.
Federated Farmers have come out defending cow stalls, desperately trying to spin them as “Environmentally-friendly”. From Radio NZ:
President Don Nicolson says the move is partly due to rising costs and pressure from lobby groups over the environmental impact of farming. He says many other countries use this type of farming.
This is classic Federated Farmers propaganda. Yes, effluent run off into our waterways would be less than on a normal dairy farm as it would be stored in large constructed ponds and discharged on the land in summer. The obvious point missed is that this is intended to help NZ expand our dairy farming industry – it’s not like they’re planning to close other farms – this is to expand the dairy industry and therefore increase both our effluent and our greenhouse gas emissions. Landcare Research ecologist Bill Lee says that intensive dairy farming in the Mackenzie Basin would also lead to the rapid extinction of native plants and animals.
While these new applications are for sixteen much larger scale operations, cow stalls are already in use in New Zealand. Abe Deworde, the operator of an Invercargill farm which has been using cow stalls for 500 dairy cows for the past four seasons, explains the real reasons why the dairy industry want to move to this style of farming:
It has increased our production, our production per hectare and efficiency, because we can milk these cows longer per year.
Increased production per hectare means that the dairy industry could rapidly expand – the amount of land required per cow in intensive factory farms would be miniscule compared with the amount of land required in pastoral farming.
The major animal welfare issues are of course obvious – cows will not be able to show normal patterns of behaviour, a requirement in the Animal Welfare Act which until the Act is fixed can, like with pigs and chickens, be pretty easily stepped around.
Further to that, there are physical health issues for cows – as has been documented in the US where this type of farming is the norm – lameness increases due to standing on a hard floor, and heavy udders, bowed legs, and mastitis (acutely painful infection of the udder) are more likely due to both milking for longer periods, and the hygiene in confined stalls as opposed to pastoral lands. Human health concerns then arise; as it becomes likely animal health will need to be controlled with antibiotics.
The life of a dairy cow in New Zealand is already far from ideal. Cows are made pregnant every year until they are determined to be not producing enough milk. They are then surplus to requirements and shipped off to the slaughterhouse. Every year a dairy cow has her baby stolen from her just 2 days after giving birth and is then forced to give far more milk for humans than she would give her own baby. As with a human mother, the more she is milked, the more milk she produces. Individual cows in New Zealand are already forced to produce up to 50 litres of milk per day.
However much “concern” Key now professes to feel is irrelevant as he claims to have “limited” power to do anything. Does this guy realise he is the Prime Minister? Does he seriously not realise he can put up a government bill to stop this type of farming going ahead? Is that why we’ve seen no action on sow stalls despite mass public outrage? I’ve mentioned before on this blog that all the PM or Minister of Agriculture need to do is put up a government bill to fix the loopholes in the Animal Welfare Act that allow Codes of Welfare to breach the principles of the Act.
Help keep the pressure on Environment Canterbury to reject the consent applications by writing a submission. The momentum is building, and by last Thursday 1100 submissions had already been received. The Green Party has a handy guide to making a submission opposing the new intensive farms. Submissions close at 5pm on Friday.