The review of the Ministry for Primary Industries' apparent failure to investigate and prosecute illegal fish dumping must be broadened to include the ministry's failure to investigate and prosecute animal welfare offences.
MPI director general Martyn Dunne last week announced a Queen's Counsel had been appointed to report on two ministry operations relating to the potentially illegal discarding of fish by some fishing vessels in 2012 and 2013.
Two ministry reports - Operation Achilles and Operation Hippocamp - were leaked, and revealed apparently disturbing details of the ministry's failure to enforce fisheries laws.
The Operation Achilles report said large quantities of fish were being discarded, there was video footage and the fact "that we [the ministry] have known about these dumping/discarding issues for many years and would appear to have done little to combat it would be very difficult to explain and unpleasant at best."
The author said that the reasons to prosecute the vessels involved "far outweigh the reasons not to prosecute as there are risk issues that could have serious consequences for the Ministry and to the wider community if not considered."
The Operation Hippocamp report concluded by acknowledging that it involved an issue "that we have known about for a long time but has generally been considered in the too hard area."
For animal advocates, this news brought a startling sense of déjà vu. Numerous complaints have been laid with the ministry in recent years about the mistreatment of pigs, hens, calves and animals used in rodeos. As well as detailed information, the ministry has been provided with extensive video footage.
• Farmwatch footage between July and December 2014 of pig farms in Christchurch, Hawera, Auckland and the Waikato, including footage of dead pigs, pigs being abused by stomping, and piglets being killed.
• December 2015 - Farmwatch footage of calves being thrown onto trucks, calves being left in crates all day and calves being mistreated.
• March 2016 - Farmwatch footage of hens being kept in shocking conditions in colony cages.
• Rodeo footage filmed by the New Zealand Anti-Rodeo Coalition and others at multiple rodeos around the country.
However, almost without exception, the ministry has refused to lay any charges.
In the year to December 2015, MPI prosecuted only five per cent of the 698 animal welfare complaints it received.
However, it is not only the ministry's failure to prosecute in animal welfare cases that requires investigation. MPI's record on the detection of animal cruelty and neglect is also woeful.
And, just as with MPI's failure to act in relation to fisheries enforcement, an internal ministry report relating to bobby calves reveals the ministry has known about the mistreatment of calves for years.
Every year in New Zealand, more than 2.2 million bobby calves are transported to slaughterhouses, aged only four to ten days old, to be slaughtered. The paper, titled Bobby Calf Project 2011, said ministry data for the 2010 bobby season identified 6866 calves as dying or requiring euthanasia between being picked up at a farm and slaughter.
That mortality rate was 12 times that of all other cattle sent for slaughter in 2010.
The report referred to the ministry's "limited resources" for dealing with calf welfare problems and also said there were "gaps" between the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which writes animal codes of welfare, and "real life."
An example was given of a group of calves being transported for 16 hours and the driver considering the animals "cargo, not 300 living (and dying) neo-natal animals."
The authors said the "reality" of trucking calves long distance was that truck driving was not monitored, there was no veterinary supervision, and the animals were transported in severe weather conditions.
It noted that most farm workers "find it abhorrent that their calves must be transported past 5 or more processing plants [en] route to slaughter; that calves are transported 600km; that trucking times can be routinely 16 hours; that calves are not required to be fed for 28 hr after their last feed and calves are often held on steel grating for extended times with inadequate shelter."
The paper also said that the "rearing and transporting of a neo-natal animal solely for slaughter within days of birth evokes an emotional response from many people. The significance of this is that any practices detrimental to calf welfare will create vulnerability not only for the New Zealand bobby industry but also to New Zealand's reputation as [a] 'clean green' international food producer."
The 2011 paper contained detailed recommendations for improvement, but a former MPI employee interviewed on TVNZ's Seven Sharp in March 2016 said they were not implemented.
It was only after TVNZ's Sunday programme last December broadcast footage of cruelty to calves, that significant action was taken.
Why is it that the most egregious cases of animal cruelty are brought to public attention by an entirely voluntary organisation - Farmwatch - rather than by the organisation charged with, and funded to, enforce animal welfare?
It is entirely unsatisfactory that the agency with responsibility for enforcement of animal welfare is time and again shown up by a voluntary group with a handful of resources.
It is plain that MPI's failings are not confined to the fisheries sector. The already-announced investigation should be widened to include a review of the ministry's performance in relation to animal welfare.
The Government should also be proactive and appoint an independent Commissioner for Animal Welfare. The commissioner would take over responsibility for the monitoring and enforcement of animal welfare from MPI.
Adequate resources would need to be provided to ensure the commissioner could properly protect animal welfare. This would mean not only prosecuting animal cruelty and neglect, but also proactive and comprehensive monitoring of animal welfare.
Catriona MacLennan is a barrister and the convenor of Animal Agenda Aotearoa.
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