In late November, I watched

Sunday

and was deeply upset at the abuse of bobby calves that TV programme showed.

• Calves left at the farm gate for heaven knows how long in the beating sun with no hydration or food.

• Calves handled roughly and transported to slaughterhouses where they were thrown on to concrete and kicked.

Advertisement

The first question I asked myself was: "Why is my capacity for compassion so limited to what I see in front of my eyes and then only when it suits?"

The second question I asked myself was: "What am I going to do about this tomorrow when I'm at the supermarket buying dairy products?"

I ended up going to Commonsense Organics in Dominion Rd. I bought sheepmilk yoghurt - Origin Earth from Hawkes Bay; and cows milk for drinks - Jersey Girl Organics from Cleavedale Farms in Matamata.

I always buy Lewis Road Creamery butter because it tastes so good and I had plenty of that at home.

Lewis Road Creamery say that they strongly stand behind farms that practice ethical and safe farming methods and that they only work with suppliers who are committed to the safe and humane treatment of bobby calves in line with the Animal Welfare Act, and impose sanctions for any variation to this commitment.

Ah, the Animal Welfare Act.

The status quo with the enforcement of this Act has been that private animal ownership, whether companion animals such as dogs and cats or "hobby farms", has predominantly been the domain of the SPCA and non-companion, commercial and production animals falls to the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

Interestingly the SPCA, co-founded in the UK in 1824 by William Wilberforce, was not set up around cats and dogs.

Horses, for the most part, were at the forefront of these campaigns as during pre-motorised vehicle days horses were used for transporting people and goods and were routinely beaten in public when they became too tired to continue to work.

Times have changed and now it is not acceptable to mistreat or mishandle animals.

Wilberforce is better known as the leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade than setting up the SPCA.

He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for 20 years until the Slave Trade Act was passed.

Nearly 200 years ago he seems to have recognised something that has only come to light in New Zealand much more recently.

In 2012, Women's Refuge and the SPCA released research showing a strong link between animal cruelty and domestic and family violence in New Zealand. Half the women interviewed had witnessed animal cruelty as part of domestic violence.

Now the awareness of cruelty in the pork industry is much higher and demanding cruelty-free pork farming is making progress. Photo / Mark Beatty
Now the awareness of cruelty in the pork industry is much higher and demanding cruelty-free pork farming is making progress. Photo / Mark Beatty

Wilberforce was not a visionary in every way though - his views of women's place in public life were deeply conservative.

The current model for SPCA inspectors is to respond to complaints made by the public and to use their powers under the Animal Welfare Act to mitigate welfare issues involving animals and educate the public.

The current legislation lacks power to stop a vehicle, a power that is now exercised by many other enforcement agencies, including fisheries officers. This power should extend to SPCA inspectors and allow for random welfare checks to be carried out on those transporting animals.

More fundamentally, how can it be right that a charity kept afloat by donations, fundraising and a veritable legion of volunteers, receiving next to no government funding, should be expected to enforce the Animal Welfare Act?

It's too easy to look at the issue of cruelty in dairying and see it as someone else's problem to fix - Dairy NZ, Fonterra, the Dairy Companies Association of NZ (DCANZ), MPI or the SPCA.

The answer has to be a personal one - modifying our individual ways of living to reflect compassion in the face of significant disregard. This takes bravery.

The current legislation lacks power to stop a vehicle, a power that is now exercised by many other enforcement agencies, including fisheries officers.

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

A close friend of mine received much flak and mocking many years ago when she took a stand against battery farming of pigs including boycotting pork products. Now the awareness of cruelty in the pork industry is much higher and demanding cruelty-free pork farming is making progress.

If we personally make ethical choices it will have a collective effect and new business models will spring up around it.

Indeed, My Food Bag is now one of the biggest buyers of free range pork in New Zealand. There is almost not enough free range pork to keep up with our demand.

Wilberforce was ridiculed for even introducing the topic of animal cruelty into the British Parliament. The subject of cruelty to animals was not seen as suited to the dignity of a legislature.

Happily, we've moved on a bit since then.

How we have a vibrant dairy industry with the highest standards of animal welfare across the board is an important national conversation as we go into 2016.

We cannot easily face ourselves if we do not act in a kind way to every single living thing, in particular those in our care and those who are bred to give their lives to feed us.

Theresa Gattung lives mainly in Auckland but used to live in Wellington and has been chair of the Wellington SPCA for several years. She is a co-founder of food delivery company My Food Bag and a former chief executive
of Telecom.