'Is our dairy industry built on cruelty?" That was the question posed by TVNZ's Sunday programme which broadcast evidence covertly filmed by FarmWatch and Safe activists.
Regardless of one's opinion - and many have been expressed - the fact remains two million unweaned bobby calves are killed each year as part of New Zealand dairy production. The question posed by Sunday, however, is far more complicated than suggested.
The term dairy industry does not adequately sum up dairy production.
In addition to the animals themselves, there are farm owners and workers, animal nutrition experts and healthcare providers, and more dairy organisations than Fonterra and DairyNZ.
Then there are livestock transporters, slaughterhouses, meat processors, government ministries, welfare inspectors, law enforcement agencies, and more.
With so many parts it becomes difficult at best, and irresponsible at worst, to either condemn or praise the dairy industry as a whole. But that should not stop us from trying to figure out who is responsible, or who can be held accountable, when something goes wrong. And it should not stop us from having a public discussion about whether or not it is socially, culturally and ethically acceptable to treat bobby calves the way we do.
According to the New Zealand Code of Welfare for Dairy Cattle, owners or managers must ensure that standards for husbandry, care and handling are met by all involved in milking, feeding and management, rearing, transport and slaughter. Most of the code violations shown in the Sunday broadcast had to do with the provision of shelter, food and water, and issues with stock handling.
What is less clear is how compliance with the Code of Welfare is, or should be, enforced. Farmers on social media were quick to say that animal activists only show the worst cases, but few questioned who should try to stop these cases from happening or continuing.
Farmer organisations offer some welfare audits and assurances, but the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is tasked with legal compliance. In both cases it is unclear if there are sufficient staff and resources to adequately do the job. Stepping back a bit, we can ask if it is even appropriate for the ministry charged with supporting farming to be the same ministry that polices it.
If everyone agrees that cruelty is unacceptable, why did people accuse Sunday of violating broadcasting codes by airing a biased story? Why did some farm owners start a Facebook group called DairyNZ against Safe, which includes posts that question the validity of their actions and authority of the information provided?*
Why is everyone not thanking FarmWatch for taking its concerns to MPI in September? And why is no one demanding that MPI explain its investigation process or the status of this complaint two months later?
At least Fonterra, an organisation that activists love to hate, had the sense to explicitly condemn what it saw on television and offer to work with activists and government to resolve any issues.
Social media on this issue reminded us that even when they agree on one issue, not all farmers think alike.
Some admitted they think that calves are taken away too early - a practice they say causes clear distress to the mothers and other difficulties. Others shared their own smaller-scale practices of letting calves wean in their own time, or larger-scale efforts to raise bull calves for beef.
Given all these different points of view from people who produce milk, should consumers simply accept Fonterra's position that the bobby calf issue is outweighed by the nutritional benefits of milk? Or the animal rights position that demands an end to all farming?
The way the debate is framed influences how people can, and ultimately do, respond.
Looking at the news yesterday, I'm not sure what we've learned about New Zealand dairy production.
All I see is a bunch of people swearing that other people have it all wrong-and that doesn't help anyone, including the animals.
Dr Anne Galloway is a senior lecturer at Victoria University 's school of design.
* Correction: An earlier version of this opinion piece stated that the "Farmers against SAFE - We love our animals" web page was set up by DairyNZ. This was incorrect. DairyNZ writes: "This page put up by farmers has provided a forum to farmers to express their views and give voice to their perspective on the issue. While the way in which they express their sentiment may not always be ideal, we wholeheartedly support their intent, which is to show that the vast majority of farmers care about their animals."