Officials have confirmed they inspected rotting carcasses in a large open offal pit on a Northland farm as part of an investigation into alleged animal cruelty at the property.
The Ministry of Primary Industries executed a warrant on the farm at Mangapai, 19km south of Whangārei, last Thursday after video footage revealed a sharemilker violently and repeatedly hitting cows. The animals were filmed being hit on the head and legs with items including a steel pipe.
Yesterday more footage was released by animal welfare group Farmwatch showing a large-scale open offal pit at the Mangapai farm with several animal carcasses in various stages of decay, only metres from a stream.
From the footage and photos it seemed the carcasses had been thrown down a bank, coming to rest in between trees.
MPI manager of compliance investigation Garry Orr said the allegations of animal welfare abuse were actively being investigated by the ministry. An earlier inquiry was dropped by MPI because of a lack of evidence.
"Any animal abuse is abhorrent and we expect people to be upset by what they would see in the photos. MPI executed a search warrant on the Northland property on Thursday June 28. MPI and an external vet inspected the property and the herd over two days. This included inspection of the carcasses in the offal pit," Orr said.
"As this is an active investigation, MPI can't go into any further detail or specifics of the case as we do not want to prejudice what may be provided to a court."
Orr said offal pits in general were regulated by local authorities and they managed the rules around the location of offal pits and disposal of dead stock.
However, when it involved a matter of animal welfare MPI would inspect carcasses in an offal pit.
Colin Dall, group manager regulatory services at the Northland Regional Council, said the NRC would be investigating further because the offal pit did not have resource consent and was not covered, which was required by relevant rules.
Under NRC regulations if an offal pit discharge is unlawful or illegal, then the council could take a range of enforcement actions to deal with the situation ranging from a letter or abatement notice requiring compliance with the relevant rules, to a prosecution.
The type of enforcement action would depend on the severity of breach of the relevant rules.
If the council issued an infringement notice for the unlawful discharge from a pit or disposal site, the fine would be $750.
Animal advocates SAFE said the offal pit breached regulations set down by MPI and Dairy NZ, Northland Regional Council regulations and Fonterra's supplier agreement.
SAFE spokesman Hans Kriek said after receiving serious animal welfare complaints from farm workers, MPI should have examined the body pit to determine if any of the animals had been violently abused.
"If MPI had made the effort to walk around the property they would have found the bodies and been able to examine them for injuries."
Last week, Orr said MPI was unable to place hidden cameras on farms to gather evidence because the longest sentence for animal cruelty convictions was five years, rather than the seven years needed to employ undercover surveillance.
"If current law doesn't allow the use of hidden cameras, MPI could at least take a vet to examine the animals, interview the farm owner and workers, and examine animals dumped in the farm's offal pit," Kriek said.
He said in addition to the serious questions over how and why these animals died, the bodies were within metres of a stream, posing a danger of environmental contamination.
The NRC rules for disposing of dead animals states animals must be buried at least 50m from any watercourse, water supply bore or home.
In the rules it also says the burial site must be adequately covered to prevent nuisance smells and access by vermin.
Use of a gully as an uncovered disposal site was not an option and neither was burning dead animals.
The farmer said the sharemilker filmed allegedly abusing cows had been removed from all duties requiring unsupervised contact with stock.
The unidentified farm owners issued a statement through Dairy NZ, saying as life-long and committed dairy farmers they were shocked and deeply saddened by the video footage.