Catriona MacLennan: Animals need dedicated watchdog

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Latest footage of factory farming suggests current system for enforcing welfare laws isn’t working

TVNZ footage reveals conditions factory farmed pigs live in.
TVNZ footage reveals conditions factory farmed pigs live in.

A parliamentary inquiry into pig farming in New Zealand should be launched immediately.

Five years ago, New Zealanders were shocked when TVNZ's Sunday programme broadcast horrifying images of pigs confined to sow stalls in appalling conditions.

Over the past two weekends, the Sunday programme has aired new footage of pigs living in dreadful conditions in farrowing crates. The pictures show rats swarming through crates, dead pigs left lying among the living, and animals covered in faeces. The film also shows one pig being hit with a hammer, while others are kicked, stomped and crushed.

Public revulsion at the 2009 programme convinced the Government to ban sow stalls from December 3, 2015. However, farrowing crates are still legal and pigs may also be kept in fattening pens.

Dry sow stalls are small metal-barred crates which are so narrow that pregnant sows cannot turn around, let alone exercise.

They are just 60cm wide and 2 metres long, meaning the animals can only stand up or lie down.

Pigs kept in sow stalls risk lameness and chronic joint disorders, as well as digestive, heart, lung and urinary diseases.

When they are due to give birth, the sows are moved to farrowing crates, where they give birth on bare concrete floors and are unable to construct nests for their piglets.

The sow's babies are taken away when they are only four weeks old and the grieving animals are impregnated again and returned to sow stalls. The piglets will be placed in fattening pens where they spend their short, miserable lives confined on concrete or wooden-slatted floors.

The cruelty brought to light by the Sunday programme flourishes unchecked because the public and consumers do not know about it. Both in New Zealand and overseas, it is often only when animal welfare advocates film cruel conditions that the public becomes aware of them. This is because government agencies charged with enforcing animal welfare fail to do their jobs properly.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is responsible for policing and enforcing animal welfare on farms. However, this role conflicts directly with the ministry's primary purpose of maximising exports of primary sector products.

When animal welfare is lined up against economics, financial considerations always prevail. That is plainly illustrated by the fact that less than 1 per cent of the ministry's budget is devoted to animal welfare - despite the fact New Zealand earns more than $21 billion in exports from animals each year.

There are around 150 million farm animals in this country, but the ministry has fewer than 50 inspectors to police them all. The overwhelming majority of abuse on farms therefore goes undetected. When complaints about animal welfare are made to the ministry, only 1 per cent lead to prosecutions.

New Zealand should remove responsibility for the investigation and enforcement of animal welfare from the Ministry for Primary Industries and transfer it to a new, independent commissioner for animal welfare. The commissioner's sole focus would be animal welfare, and an adequate budget would be required to permit both monitoring and enforcement of welfare.

The commissioner should carry out random farm checks to ensure abuse and neglect are detected. In Canada, animal welfare advocates are suggesting live video feeds from farms, so farmers and workers know their actions will be open to public scrutiny.

New Zealand should also act immediately to put an end to its factory farming shame, by abolishing all factory farming by 2017 at the latest.

In the European Union, sow stalls have been banned since January 1, 2013. In Australia, Tasmania has seized the initiative and banned the use of sow stalls four years ahead of the rest of the Australian pig industry.

In the United States, individual states are acting to outlaw battery hen cages, sow stalls and veal calf crates. And Canada recently banned the lifelong confinement of pigs in gestation crates.

What New Zealand is proposing at present under the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill is that factory farming practices could continue for up to another 15 years.

Pigs are as intelligent as dogs and smarter than 3-year-old human children. Imagine the uproar if we treated dogs or children in the way we allow pigs to be mistreated.

The worst criminals in our society are confined to jail for lengthy periods. Eventually, however, they are released back into the community. For animals on factory farms, however, there is never any freedom. Let's put a speedy end to their suffering.

- NZ Herald

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