The year is flying by, and some important changes to how animal welfare is protected in New Zealand are just around the corner.
As of October 1, the next instalment of Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations come into effect.
Animal welfare is most commonly thrown into the spotlight when things go very wrong, and cases of severe neglect or cruelty are discovered. But animal welfare is so much more than avoiding disaster — it's about operating to ensure the experience of our animals is a positive as we can make it.
New Zealand currently has two ways animal welfare is protected:
1. The Animal welfare Act 1999: The Act is very 'high level' and outlines the obligations we have to protect animals in our care. The Act is used as the basis for prosecution in cases of severe neglect or cruelty.
2. Codes of Welfare: These are specific to certain types of animal/activity, and contain further detail on what is considered 'acceptable' conduct. The codes are not directly enforceable, but can be used to support (or defend) a prosecution under The Act.
The new Regulations aim to bridge the gap between The Act and the codes of welfare, so that low-medium level offending (which is generally below the level able to be prosecuted under The Act) can be better enforced.
The new Regulations are very relevant to commercial farmers, but also cover a range of other animals from crabs to companion pets, and also include changes to rodeos and inspection of pest traps. The Regulations relating to dehorning and disbudding of cattle will not be enforced until October 2019.
More information on the new regulations can be found on the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) website: www.mpi.govt.nz
So why should we care?
Over the last 100 years our understanding of animal welfare has come forward in leaps and bounds.
We have changed from a mindset where animals were considered to be 'machine-like' with automatic responses to painful events (not any feeling) to a mind-set where we understand animals not only feel pain, but can even experience emotion.
It is important that we continue to prevent negative states of welfare (minimising 'bad' experiences), but it's critical we start to pay attention to promoting positive states of welfare (maximising 'good' experiences).
New Zealand relies on export of our animal products to consumers overseas — particularly meat and dairy. Access to these markets is by no means guaranteed, and consumers are becoming increasingly discerning, especially when it comes to animal welfare.
We recently made a significant step forward when we included the word 'sentient' in the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill. Meaning this country recognises animals can experience 'feelings' — and we have an obligation to ensure those feelings are positive wherever possible.
New Zealand has a reputation for good animal welfare standards.
The new regulations are another step in the right direction, and we should be proud of our ongoing commitment to making life better for all creatures great and small.