In 2017 the coalition Government created history when Meka Whaitiri was made Associate Minister of Agriculture with responsibility for animal welfare. She held the first-ever hui to discuss animal issues, asked the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to investigate how rodeos impacted on sentient animals, and unveiled a Framework for Action on Animal Welfare.
After she was removed as a minister in 2018, the animal welfare portfolio was handed back to Minister for Primary Industries Damien O'Connor. This is a clear conflict of interest. Animal welfare is seen as hampering export promotion, as it costs more to treat animals well, and exposure of ill-treatment of livestock risks damaging New Zealand's reputation internationally and jeopardising agricultural exports.
In the nine months since Ms Whaitiri was dismissed there has been silence from the Government on animal welfare issues, in stark contrast to the way the governing parties talked up their commitments to animal welfare before the 2017 election.
Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens all completed the Animal Agenda Aotearoa questionnaire about their animal policies. Spokespersons for the three parties were also interviewed on radio programme Safe and Sound to talk about their animal commitments. Then Labour animal spokesman Trevor Mallard was photographed with his dog Violet, and talked about how important animal issues were to him. He said Labour would ban flank straps, electric prods, rope burning and the use of calves under 12 months old in rodeos. He also committed Labour to "work massively" to reduce testing on animals, and to restrict live exports to sales for breeding only, with animals being transported by air and not by sea.
New Zealand First said it supported banning live exports, other than those of bloodstock. The Greens supported banning rodeos, abolishing factory farming, installing cameras in slaughterhouses, and working to ban animal testing.
After more than 18 months in government, there has been little progress on these issues. The fact that the Prime Minister did not appoint a minister with responsibility for animal welfare in her Cabinet reshuffle can be regarded as nothing other than an ominous sign.
World Animal Protection publishes the Animal Protection Index, a ranking of 50 countries according to their legislation and policy commitments to protecting animals. The index was first published in 2014, and New Zealand at that time was ranked No 1. The index is currently being reviewed, and an updated version will be issued in early 2020. However, this country has little progress to report on improving animals' lives since the last index was released in 2014, thanks to this current Government.
World Animal Protection would like to see the governing parties making good on their pre-election commitments about animals. We urge the government to appoint a Minister for Animal Welfare. This time, that person should sit in Cabinet and be a full minister.
New Zealand also needs an independent Commissioner for Animal Welfare. Responsibility for animal welfare should be removed from MPI, so it can focus exclusively on its main mission of promoting and increasing exports. The new commissioner's office should be properly resourced to monitor animal welfare and enforce the Animal Welfare Act.
MPI's budget for 2017/18 was $991 million. Only around $4m of that is spent on animal welfare. In 2015, MPI had only 11 animal welfare inspectors to cover all New Zealand. This country has around 160 million farmed animals. By 2017 the number of animal welfare inspectors had been increased to 22, but it is still a tiny number for an agricultural nation.
MPI's On-Farm Verification programme involves the agency visiting farms to monitor them. In 2005 there were 12,786 dairy farms. MPI aims to visit 300 farms a year, meaning it would take more than 38 years for all dairy farms to be inspected.
A similar lack of commitment to dealing properly with identified cases of cruelty and neglect is demonstrated by the statistics. A July 2017 Cabinet paper said that, in the preceding three years, about 15,000 complaints about animal welfare had been received by MPI and the SPCA. Around 30 per cent were not substantiated, but of the remaining 10,000 substantiated cases, less than 100 — 1 per cent — were prosecuted.
It is time for the Government to step up and show us some action on animal welfare issues.