Rodeo, while it needs to continue to lift the bar on animal welfare, is a sport legitimately enjoyed and valued by thousands of New Zealanders, writes New Zealand First MP Mark Patterson, of Lawrence.
The ODT is to be commended for its balanced editorial on the issues surrounding rodeo last Wednesday.
As you rightly point out, it is a very emotive topic for which there appears little middle ground. I enjoy attending the odd rodeo and have huge respect for the skill and courage of the competitors who provide the crowds with spectacular adrenaline-filled entertainment.
I note the significant crowds that attend and the importance to rural communities, many of whom have all too few annual events in which to gather.
I also note the wide range of ages in attendance both as spectators and competitors, there is a genuine family element to these days.
Many of these events are traditions that have been running for over 50 years.
As your editorial observes, rodeo does not ''exist in a bubble''.
Its animal welfare credentials must conform to modern society's expectations.
Farmers are consistently being required to lift their animal welfare performance with new regulations coming into effect as of October last year as society and, importantly, discerning consumers demand ever higher assurances.
In that regard rodeo is no different.
The latest report from NAWAC (National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee) has raised some concerns around rodeo particularly in regard the calf rope and tie and steer wrestling events.
Those concerns are shared by the New Zealand Veterinary Association which provides a monitor vet at all rodeos.
It is clear that rodeos will need to continue to evolve if it is to maintain its status as a legitimate sport and entertainment.
The recent deaths of two animals which had to be euthanised at a Gisborne rodeo have only added fuel to the fire of the anti-rodeo movement, which demands nothing less than a total ban on all rodeo, led in part by the Green Party which also wishes to condemn the sport to history.
Such deaths, while highly unfortunate, are rare.
The NAWAC report however does highlight the need for more comprehensive statistics to be kept in order to properly ascertain the overall effects on animal welfare.
In my experience, the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboy's Association (NZRCA) is trying extremely hard to lift standards across the board.
It is acutely aware of the intense scrutiny, with every move at every rodeo being watched by those who will seek to exploit any error or injury to seek the sport's demise.
The NZRCA has indicated a willingness to experiment with alternative methods in the rope and tie and should be encouraged to do so without fear that it will be used as thin edge of the wedge.
What was outside the scope of the NAWAC report was the social benefits of rodeo.
In Southern towns like Lawrence, Outram, Millers Flat and Mataura the local rodeo is by far the biggest annual event.
They provide valuable social occasions, fundraising opportunities for local organisations and a much-needed financial injection for small local businesses for many of whom it is their biggest revenue day of the year.
Also not considered in the report is the positive environment rodeo provides young competitors from working with animals and the discipline involved in preparation and participation in this exacting sport.
At the political level the task at hand is to assess the official advice and work with rodeo to continue to lift the bar on animal welfare.
This will almost certainly involve adjustments to some events.
New Zealand First will not support a ban, as we believe the risks are manageable and rodeo is a sport legitimately enjoyed and valued by thousands of New Zealanders, the majority of whom reside in our rural communities.
- This opinion piece was first published in the Otago Daily Times.